After a 1-0 win over Uruguay to open up Group F action at the U-20 World Cup in Turkey, Croatia took on Uzbekistan Wednesday night with sole control of the group up for grabs. After a scoreless first 20 minutes, Uzbekistan’s Rahmanov broke the deadlock, getting a piece off the ball to deflect off his shin following a curling free kick from the sideline. Croatian goalkeeper Oliver Zelenika stayed put in goal and the defense could not block the incoming ball after it was deflected by an Uzbeki player. Croatian players were caught flat footed on the play and it would see them go into the locker room down 1-0 even though they controlled possession 55% of the time and outshot Uzbekistan 7-0 from corner kicks.
But Croatia would not be denied as 19 year-old Atalanta striker Marko Livaja would score an almost identical goal to Uzbekistan’s in the 65′, tapping in a free kick from the sideline after being left unmarked in front of goal. The match would end 1-1 with Croatia and Uzbekistan now sharing the spoils atop the group, both with four points through the first two matches. Croatia will play New Zealand on Saturday, who are stuck on zero points, while Uzbekistan face Uruguay. All Croatia needs is a point to book their place in the round of 16 but first place is still up for grabs.
Inter Milan’s Mateo Kovačić and Dinamo Zagreb’s Alen Halilović were not released by their clubs to participate in the U-20 World Cup. These results might be a bit more lopsided in Croatia’s favor if the two wunder-kids were playing. Look for the Mali Vatreni to make the knockout stages after a humiliating group stage exit at the 2011 tournament in Columbia.