Croatia open three-goal lead over Greece after playoff first leg

Stefanos Kapino Greece

Croatia gave their hopes of qualifying for next year's FIFA World Cup in Russian Federation a big boost with their impressive 4-1 home win against Greece in the European qualifying play-offs first leg on Thursday in Zagreb.

The Croatians have won all four of their playoffs to reach either World Cup or European Championship tournaments in the past and have advanced to 9 out of 11 major finals as an independent nation.

Croatia doubled their lead in the 19th minute through Nikola Kalinic but Sokratis Papastathopoulos pulled a goal back for Greece in the 30th minute.

Real Madrid's Modric opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 13th minute after Greek goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis miscontrolled a backpass and brought down Kalinic, where he was fortunate to only see a yellow card.

Andrej Kramaric's third goal in his last two global appearances early in the second half extended Croatia's advantage even further, leaving its opponent with a mountain to climb ahead of the return fixture on Monday (AEDT).

Kalinic celebrates Croatia's second goal.

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Dejan Lovren headed wide on 18 minutes as the hosts pressed for a second, and one minute later it arrived when Kalinic met a cross from Ivan Strinic and fired past Karnezis.

As expected, Croatia were the better side in the first leg of their Champions League playoff with Greece.

However, having worked so hard to grab an away goal, Michael Skibbe's side conceded again within five minutes, Sime Vrsaljko's deep cross from the right presenting Perisic with the simple task of nodding the ball in.

Yet Greece's calamitous defending was not just confined to the first half.

Konstantinos Stafylidis tried to chest Ivan Rakitic's cross back to his keeper but left it short, and Kramaric pounced from close range. As it is, it still requires a remarkable turnaround in the home leg in Athens.

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