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Croatia flex their muscles as they put seven past shambolic Malta

MALTA             1

Brozovic 32 og

CROATIA          7

Perisic 6 ; Caleta-Car 23

Pasalic 40; Modric 45

Mayer 46, 65; Kramaric 53

MALTA

H. Bonello, K. Shaw (82 K. Micallef), R. Camenzuli, A. Agius, J. Mbong (68 S. Dimech), L. Montebello (62 A. Satariano), E. Pepe, T. Teuma (62 M. Guillaumier), J. Degabriele, B. Kristensen (46 S. Pisani), C. Attard.

CROATIA

I. Grbic, B. Sosa, I. Perisic (54 M. Orsic), D. Caleta-Car, A. Kramaric (54 B. Petkovic), L. Modric (54 N. Vlasic), M. Brozovic (46 K. Jakic), M. Pasalic (61 M. Livaja), L. Majer, J. Gvardiol, J. Juranovic.

Referee Deniz Aytekin (Germany).

Yellow card Pepe.

Croatia flexed their muscles with an efficient attacking display to condemn an erratic Malta side to their heaviest defeat in the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign at the National Stadium.

There was never any doubt on the gulf in quality between the two countries as the Croatians arrived here with the majority of the players that reached the World Cup final three years ago.

But the Croatians’ cause was surely helped by Malta’s shambolic defending with the team again repeatedly punished with their poor passing when trying to build play from the back apart from their lax marking in set-piece situations.

The win was a huge shot in the arm for the Croatians who remain firmly in the hunt for top spot in the group as they trail leaders Russia by two points ahead of Sunday’s showdown in Split.

For Malta, on the other hand, the defeat was a bitter pill to swallow after the team’s bright showings of late and it will be important for the players to put this performance firmly behind them before Sunday’s final match against Slovakia.

In fact, the Maltese can still end achieve some encouraging objectives at the end of the campaign as a positive result against the Slovakians would secure a record-point haul in qualifying as well as avoid bottom spot in the group for the first time since the 1994 World Cup qualifiers.

Malta coach Devis Mangia recalled Hibernians trio Andrei Agius, Jurgen Degabriele and Bjorn Kristensen to his starting formation. Agius filled the void left by the injured Steve Borg while Kristensen was preferred to Steve Pisani. Upfront, Degabriele was given the nod to start ahead of Paul Mbong.

Croatia, on their part, were boosted by the availability of their star man Luka Modric who captained the side which included the likes of Inter duo Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic among others.

The Croatians were on the accelerator right from the outset and were regaled with the opener after six minutes of play.

The Maltese tried to take the ball from the back with Camenzuli’s pass immediately intercepted by Modric who quickly fed Andrej Kramaric inside the area. Seeing Bonello out of position, the Hoffenheim forward quickly squared the ball to Perisic who easily stabbed the ball into the net.

Modric almost was on the mark two minutes later but his shot with the outstep was pushed away by Bonello.

The visitors thought they had doubled the lead on 12 minutes when Josko Gvardiol picked up a short clearance to fire past Bonello, but the ‘goa’ was annulled for an offside position of two Croatian players.

The Maltese fans shouted ‘goal’ on 16 minutes when Teddy Teuma played in Degabriele who slotted the ball past Ivo Gribic. But the referee annulled the goal for a close offside infringement.

Croatia grabbed a second goal on 23 minutes when from a free-kick action, Modric drilled the ball towards the area and Duje Caleta-Car headed firmly past Bonello.

But the Maltese kept fighting and they managed to pull a goal back on 32 minutes.

Montebello showed great vision to play in Degabriele who sped inside the area and tried to pick his attacking partner at the far post. However, Montebello was anticipated by Brozovic who inadvertently deviated the ball past Grbic for an own goal.

The goal lifted the spirits of the Maltese crowd at the stadium but the Croatians took little time to restore their two-goal lead.

Five mintues from the break, the Croatians somewhat cleared a Malta corner, with Modric sending a precise pass towards Kramaric who turned past his marker and served Pasalic who deposited the ball into an empty net.

The Croatians all but wrapped up the points on the stroke of half-time when the home side were again found wanting when trying to move the ball out of defence as Agius’s pass was intercepted by Lovro Majer who fed Pasalic and the Atalanta forward set up Modric with a backheel and the Real Madrid star fired past Bonello.

Any hope the Croatians would take their foot off the pedal after the break were quickly dispelled when they added their fifth goal on 47 minutes.

Juranovic picked Kramaric who saw his header pushed away by Bonello into the feet of Lovro Majer who poked home.

The Malta defence were all over the place the Croatians were handed the sixth goal on a plate when substitute Steve Pisani miscued his pass towards Agius and in came Kramaric who beat the out-of-position Bonello for 6-1.

The Croatians continued to push more men forward and grabbed a seventh on 65 minutes Majer was put in pace inside the area by Mislav Orsic and beat Bonello from close in.

From then on, there was little to report as the Croatians eased their pressure with the Maltese trying to avoid further damage on a very disappointing night.

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