By James Agberebi:
Croatia gave their hopes of qualifying for next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia a big boost with their impressive 4-1 home win against Greece in the European qualifying play-offs first leg on Thursday in Zagreb.
Croatia took the lead thanks to Real Madrid star Luka Modric who converted a 13th minute penalty.
Croatia doubled their lead in the 19th minute through Nikola Kalinic but Sokratis Papastathopoulos pulled a goal back for Greece in the 30th minute.
In the 33rd minute, Inter Milan star Ivan Perisic restored Croatia’s two-goal advantage before Andrej Kramaric scored in the 49th minute to give Croatia a 4-1 win.
In another play-off first leg on Thursday in Belfast, Northern Ireland may have to wait for their first World Cup appearance since Mexico 1986 as they lost 1-0 at home to Switzerland.
The only goal of the game was scored by AC Milan’s Ricardo Rodriguez from the penalty spot in the 58th minute.
In the return legs, Greece will look to overturn the 4-1 first leg deficit against Croatia on Sunday, while Switzerland will be hoping to finish off the job at home against Northern Ireland also on Sunday.
Other European 2018 World Cup first leg play-offs will see Sweden entertain four-time World Cup champions Italy on Friday, and on Saturday, Republic of Ireland will be guests to Denmark.