STARTING XI vs. Macedonia: Pletikosa – Srna, Ćorluka, Šimunić, Strinić – Perišić, Vukojević, Modrić, Rakitić – Eduardo, Mandžukić
The cardiac Croatians were at it again Friday night in Zagreb.
After a hot start against Macedonia which nearly saw a goal from Eduardo in the opening minute, Croatia had little to show for the next hour in their opening qualifying match for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Dortmund man Ivan Perišić whipped in a perfect cross in the first minute of play with Eduardo heading the ball off the left post. Macedonia, with only 36% ball possession in the first half, had the better chances as a header following a corner needed to be cleared off the line by captain Darijo Srna and Goran Pandev’s rocket from 22 yards out rattled off the bottom of the crossbar after the Croatian defense let him stroll in for the shot.
Ivan Rakitić looked horrible in the match, passing and shooting alike, and was subbed out for Niko Kranjčar at the half. After an active first 45 minutes, Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modrić looked quiet after the restart and couldn’t rally his troops to an opening goal. Modrić moved back to his natural ‘distributing’ position in midfield in the second half after being played as a supporting striker in the first.
Nikica Jelavić was brought on for Eduardo in the 63′, and coach Štimac will be happy with his decision. Six minutes after the move, Jelavić headed home in front of net for the game’s lone goal and secured Croatia the three points they were looking for. Modrić started the play in front of the box, chipping the ball to Mario Mandžukić on the right wing, who in turn headed the ball to a running Jelavić for the goal.
It would be all Croatia would need on the night even though their play was anything but charismatic. All eyes are now on defender Vedran Ćorluka as he injured his left ankle in the closing minutes of the game. He was in pain and immediately carted off the field. His status for the away match to Belgium on Tuesday is unknown at the moment.