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Croatia’s star players combine to overcome plucky Malta in Rijeka

Steve Pisani tries to turn past Josip Juranovic, of Croatia, in Rijeka. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

National team denied a clear penalty in first half

CROATIA         3

Perisic 62; Modric 76 pen.

Brekalo 90

MALTA            0

CROATIA

D. Livakovic, J. Juranovic, D. Vida, D. Caleta-Car, D. Melnjak (57 B. Barisic), M. Kovacic, M. Badelj (53 L. Modric), M. Pasalic (J. Brekalo), N. Vlasic, M. Orsic (78 K. Lovric) , A. Budimir (53 I. Perisic).

MALTA

H. Bonello, R. Camenzuli, S. Borg (66 Z. Muscat), E. Pepe, K. Shaw, J. Mbong (66 J. Corbalan), B. Kristensen (81 L. Gambin), M. Guillaumier, S. Pisani (63 J. Grech), T. Teuma, A. Satariano (46 K. Nwoko).

Referee Lionel Tschudi (Switzerland).

Yellow cards Vida, Vlasic.

Croatia needed goals from their star players Ivan Perisic, Luka Modric and Josip Brekalo to overcome a plucky Malta side in a World Cup qualifier in Rijeka last night.

It was a difficult night from the national team who, despite putting on a disciplined display, were let down by some controversial decisions from referee Lionel Tschudi who surely swayed the match in the hosts favour.

In fact for much of the first half, Malta did well to contain the Croatians who struggled to create any serious danger to the Maltese defence.

Instead it was the visitors who should have been awarded a penalty midway through the first half when Croatian defender Juranovic clearly handled the ball inside the area but the Swiss official incredibly waved play on.

After the break, Croatia brought on their star players to finally break the deadlock through Perisic.

Any hope Malta had to take something from the match was ended by the referee on 76 minutes when he harshly adjudged that Kyrian Nwoko handled the ball inside the. Modric stepped up to make it 2-0 to end the match as a contest before Brekalo added a late third goal.

But despite the defeat, the Maltese players still left the Rijeka Stadium with their heads held high as they managed to produce a very commendable showing against the vice-world champions.

Unfortunately, the physical toll of having to play three matches in the space of a week had an effect but no doubt Mangia make sure that his team will be better prepared for the next triple-header scheduled for next September.

Mangia made two changes from the team that drew against Slovakia in Trnava last Saturday.

Bjorn Kristensen was handed a recall at the heart of midfield at the expense of Paul Mbong while Steve Pisani was preferred to the more offensive-minded Luke Gambin.

Croatia, on the other hand, opted to rest several star players as Sime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren, Borna Barisic, Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic and Luka Modric were all dropped from the starting formation by coach Zlatko Dalic who opted to bring in some fresh legs into his team.

The Croatians made their intentions clear right from the outset and after two minutes Nikola Vlasic beat Malta’s offside trap but his shot just missed the upright.

Malta threatened on ten minutes when the visitors defence cleared a free-kick and went on a quick transition that saw Teddy Teuma serving the sprinting Joseph Mbong who entered inside the area and his angled drive was saved by Dominik Livakovic.

Four minutes later, Pasalic saw him connect to Kovacic’s cross but his dipping header bounced on the crossbar before it was cleared.

The Maltese players shouted for a penalty when Steve Pisani controlled Kristensen’s pass and saw the ball hit the arm of Croatian defender Juranovic but referee Lionel Tschudi incredibly remained unmoved much to the chagrin of the visitors.

Just past the half hour mark, the Croatians came close when Pasalic did well to turn past Borg but his low cross found no takers.

The Croatians continued to dominate the possession, but they never managed to have a sniff at goal as the Maltese defence was showing great organisation.

On the restart, Mangia withdrew Satariana and roped in Kyrian Nwoko as he looked to add more physical presence upfront.

Croatia started strongly after the break when Juranovic found Vlasic inside the area but his shot was blocked by Bonello.

The Malta goalkeeper came to his team’s rescue on 50 minutes when a poor clearance from Mbong put Orsic clear but the Dinamo Zagreb forward was denied by Bonello.

 Dalic looked the bring more quality to his forward line when he brought on Modric for Badelja, Perisic for Budimir while Josip Brekalo replaced Pasalic.

The Croatians’ pressure was taking its toll and they finally got the breakthrough on 62 minutes when Barisic sent a cross towards Perisic who stabbed home from close in.

Malta almost conceded a second on 64 minutes but Vlasic fired wide from inside the area.

The referee again took centre stage on 75 minutes when he harshly adjudged that Nwoko had handled the ball in attempt to clear the ball away and from the spot, Modric sent Bonello the wrong way.

A minute from time, Perisic beat the Malta offside trap to set up Brekalo who stabbed the ball into the net.

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