Croatia qualifies for World Cup after 0-0 draw with Greece
Croatia's Nikola Kalinic, left, and Greece's Kostas Manolas challenge for a high ball during the World Cup qualifying play-off second leg soccer match between Greece and Croatia at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium, in Piraeus port, near Athens, Sunday Nov. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
DEMETRIS NELLAS, Associated Press
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Croatia qualified for the 2018 World Cup finals after a 0-0 draw in the second leg of the playoffs against Greece on Sunday.
With a considerable advantage from Thursday's 4-1 victory in Zagreb, Croatia easily held off the Greek hosts as they pressed for an upset.
Croatia came closest to scoring in the 42nd minute when Ivan Perisic's powerful shot ricocheted off Greece's left post, with goalkeeper Orestis Karezis well beaten.
Greece came closest to scoring in the 87th when Panagiotis Tachtsidis's shot from inside the area was deflected by goalkeeper Danijel Subasic's legs.
Greece also had two shots go just wide - one by Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the first half and another by Costas Mitroglou in the second - but otherwise did not threaten.
Croatia coach Zlatko Lakic, who took over the team on Oct. 7, downplayed his own role in qualification.
"We have many quality players. I did not have to make much of an effort," Lakic said. "I should remind you there was a coach before me and what is happening now is the result of a joint effort."
Lakic replaced Ante Cacic, who was fired the day after a home draw against Finland and two days before the last group-stage qualifier at Ukraine, which Croatia won in Lakic's debut.
Greece coach Michael Skibbe said the first leg had done the damage.
"We had 12 good games (at the qualifiers) ... on this level of football, it is not allowed to make mistakes like these," said Skibbe, referring to Greece's poor performance in Croatia. Skibbe said Greece had been unlucky to miss defender Costas Manolas through suspension, and others through injury.
It is the third time that Croatia has qualified for the World Cup finals through playoffs after also advancing this way to the 1998 and 2014 tournaments. Croatia has never lost in the playoffs, including two qualifications for the European Championship.