Andrej Kramaric’s second-half brace powered Croatia to a 2-0 win over Ukraine and as a result the Vatreni assured themselves of a play-off for next year’s World Cup by finishing second to Iceland in their qualification group.
A crisis had erupted in Croatia after they drew 1-1 against Iceland on October 7, with coach Ante Cacic getting the sack as a result of their sub-par performance.
With a host of big-name players in their squad, including Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, among others, Croatia were under severe pressure to beat Ukraine in what was effectively a play-off to reach the play-offs.
They took their sweet time on Monday night at the Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex, opening their account on the hour-mark thanks to Kramaric’s thumping header.
Croatia captain Luka Modric floated in a delightful cross and the 5’11 Kramaric rose highest to head home the vital breakthrough.
Kramaric, who had disappointed during his spell with Premier League side Leicester City but has rejuvenated has career at Bundesliga team 1899 Hoffenheim, then added another for good measure when he arrived at the far-post to covert Ivan Rakitic’s volleyed pass in the 70th minute.
Ukraine, managed by legend Andriy Shevchenko, were unable to muster anything of note and were limited to testing Croatian keeper Daniel Subasic from distance.
Subasic had a nervy start to the game, almost letting a speculative shot trickle but recovered well and apart from that, looked calm between the sticks.
Meanwhile, Iceland beat Kosovo 2-0 to confirm top spot in the group with 22 points and qualify for the World Cup. Croatia ended their campaign in second-place with 20 points and will advance to the play-offs.