ZAGREB - Niko Kranjcar scored the first
two goals and laid on the third as Croatia breezed past Malta
3-0 to go top of Euro 2012 Group F qualifying on Wednesday.
The out-of-favour Tottenham Hotspur midfielder cracked in a
fierce drive from the edge of the penalty box to put the
Croatians in front in the 19th minute.
Kranjcar then produced a replica effort to make it 2-0 in
His Tottenham team-mate Luka Modric rattled the post while
forwards Eduardo da Silva and Mladen Petric also went close as
Croatia dominated the first half.
Michael Mifsud ballooned Malta's best chance high over the
bar early in the second period.
Substitute Nikola Kalinic came on for Petric with half an
hour to go and he made sure of victory in the 81st minute by
heading in a fine cross from Kranjcar.
"We are happy to be top although we feel the group is wide
open. Our next two matches against Georgia will be of crucial
importance," Croatia coach Slaven Bilic told reporters.
"Niko's two goals were fantastic and I'm delighted to see
him going for long-range efforts... as his shooting ability is
The match, played on a rain-soaked pitch, marked the 20th
anniversary of Croatia's first game as an independent country, a
friendly against United States.
Unbeaten Croatia have 10 points from four games, two ahead
of Greece and four in front of Georgia. Malta are bottom with no
Bilic's team resume their qualifying campaign in March with
a trip to Georgia.
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