In an evenly game, Macedonia had no luck and a single mistake brought the three points to Croatia with Nikica Jelavić scoring the game winner for a 1:0 win.
Macedonia started the qualifications for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with a tough defeat. All the optimism and positive atmosphere were for not as Croatia capitalized on a lack of concentration in the second half to score the only goal of the game through substitute Nikica Jelavić.
Croatia started furiously and almost took the lead in the opening minute but Eduardo’s header which was then redirected off of Goran Popov struck the outside of the left goal post. Macedonia settled down and started to play much bettern in the next 20 minutes. Croatia had more of the possession but Macedonia was creating more chances. Pandev though he had won a penalty in the 20th minute after contact with the Croatian keeper inside the box but the referee waved play on, ruling that Goran dived. Defender Vanche Shikov came close to giving Macedonia the 1:0 lead in the 32nd minute with a header following a corner but his effort was cleared of the line by Darijo Srna. About ten minutes later, Pandev showcased good technique with a powerful left footed shot that rattled the crossbar. The Croatian keeper Stipe Pletikosa was beat but luckily for him, the shot his the crossbar. Macedonia concluded the first half with 5 corners, Croatia just 1, but the half-time result was still 0:0.
In the second half, the Croatians made a substitution that proved to be a positive move. Niko Kranjčar came on for the disappointing Ivan Rakitić. The second half continued to be an even affair with neither side really having a great chance. That changed in the 69th minute when Nikica Jelavić, who entered the game minutes earlier, scored with a header from close range. Luca Modrić swung a cross inside the area, connected with the head of Mario Mandžukić whose headed pass perfectly reached Jelavić to score on an easy header from close distance. It was Goran Popov’s mistake that led to the goal as he left Jelavić to mark Mandžukić which proved to be the mistake that decided the game. After that, Croatia held on the ball and the Macedonian team seemed tired and did not come close to scoring an equalizer.
“In the first half, we hit the post, there was a clearance on the ball from the goal line, and a very suspicious non penalty situation with Pandev, but that’s football. The referees are making decisions in a hurry, it’s not easy for them. I didn’t notice a drastic difference between Macedonia and Croatia that is shown by the ratings, therefore I can’t make remarks to the players as we deserved at least a point. I congratulate Croatia, now we put all of our thoughts towards Scotland.” – Manager Chedomir Janevski said after the game.
Click here to see the match report.
In the other game of Group A, Belgium beat Wales on the road 2:0. After James Collins was shown a direct red card in the 26th minute and left Wales with 10 men, Belgium capitalized first through Vincent Kompany just minutes before the break and then by Jan Vertonghen in the 83rd minute to put the game away. Scotland and Serbia, the other two national teams that comprise Group A, play on Saturday.
Croatia’s winning goal: