Zagreb, Oct 11 (IANS) On a rainy Saturday night in Zagreb, Croatia beat Bulgaria 3-0 with a convincing performance and still has a chance to earn direct qualification for EURO 2016.
New national head coach Ante Cacic couldn’t ask for a better start in his debut at Croatian bench as Inter Milan striker Ivan Perisic scored in the 2nd minute of the match against Bulgaria, reported Xinhua. Perisic sneaked behind Bulgarian defense to meet a perfectly timed pass from Real Madrid star Luka Modric and put the ball past goalkeeper Bozhidar Mitrev.
With five goals to his name Perisic is the best Croatian scorer in EURO 2016 qualifiers. Croatia was close to score on a few more occasions during the first half and almost had an unexpected help from Bulgarian defender Georgi Terziev when he hit the post of his own goal trying to clear the ball. Bulgarians had one shot on the target and one off the target in the first half, leaving Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subasic soaking in a heavy rain.
In 42nd minute, Ivan Rakitic doubled Croatian lead. Rakitic played a neat one-two pass with Fiorentina forward Nikola Kalinic and Barcelona midfielder didn’t have trouble to put the ball in the net. Kalinic’s wish to carry his scoring form from Fiorentina to national team was granted in 81st minute. Perisic’s cross from left side found Kalinic on the goal line and Fiorentina striker crowned his good performance with the first goal for Croatia in two years.
The only downside to Croatia’s victory was a red card shown in the 89th minute to Malaga forward Duje Cop who came as a substitute and will miss a match at Malta. With its win in Azerbaijan, Italy leads Group H standings with 21 points and with one match remaining, and has earned its place at EURO 2016. Norway is in the second place with 19 points and Croatia is third with 17 points.
Next Tuesday, Croatia will have to win at Malta and hopes that Italy will hold off Norwegian quest for victory in Rome and help Croatians earn direct qualification for EURO 2016. Any other outcome of those games will push Croatia to playoffs for remaining four places in the 24-team tournament that France will host next year.