Football - Croatia hopes hit by shock loss to Scotland



Croatia suffered a shock 1-0 home defeat by beleaguered Scotland in a World Cup qualifier on Friday after midfielder Robert Snodgrass struck against the run of play in the first half.

Scotland have no chance of reaching next year's finals in Brazil but the defeat severely dented Croatia's chances of finishing top of Group A and clinching an automatic berth in the 32-nation tournament.

The Croatians, who have 16 points from seven games, trail leaders Belgium who have 19 from seven after a 2-1 home win over Serbia.

Although the home team dominated proceedings, they created very few clear cut chances and were stung in the 26th minute when Snodgrass crept in to silence a patriotic crowd in Maksimir stadium.

Croatia started in an attacking 4-4-2 formation but Brazilian-born playmaker Sammir was ineffective, while wingers Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic also struggled against the well-organised Scots who gave their rivals precious little room to operate.

Several thousand kilt-wearing Scotland fans were in raptures in the 26th minute after their team's rare raid into the opposition half paid handsome dividends, with Snodgrass poking the ball over keeper Stipe Pletikosa after a rebound from a defensive blunder fell kindly for him.

Sammir then blasted a shot from the edge of the penalty box well over the bar with McGregor helpless on the turf following a scrambled clearance in front of the advancing Mario Mandzukic, who was starved of service along with strike partner Ivica Olic.

Rakitic headed wide a teasing Darijo Srna cross from the right shortly before the halftime, when the home fans jeered Croatia's players into the dressing room.

Croatia came out purposefully in the second half and Olic's fierce shot from 20 metres sailed just over the bar before Perisic made way for former Arsenal striker Eduardo da Silva in the 56th minute.

Olic created a sitter for Mandzukic five minutes later, curling in a teasing cross which the Bayern Munich hitman sliced wide after he slid into the five-yard box.

Mandzukic drew applause from the home crowd shortly afterwards with an acrobatic overhead kick that sailed over the bar before McGregor rescued Scotland with a somewhat fortuitous save to deny central midfielder Mateo Kovacic from long range.

Stimac then threw caution to the wind as the home team's fourth striker Nikola Kalinic came on for left back Ivan Strinic but the 45-year-old coach's desperate attempt to salvage at least a draw backfired as Scotland held firm at the back.

"This was not in the script as we really didn't expect to drop points here against Scotland," Croatia defender Gordon Schildenfeld told Croatian television.

"We were completely disjointed in midfield and we also too many personal battles but we hope we can redeem ourselves for this slip-up in the remaining three matches."

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