SPLIT - Crowd favourite Nikola
Kalinic ended Croatia's 16-year wait for a victory at the Poljud
stadium when he scored the winner in a 2-1 comeback triumph over
Georgia in a Euro 2012 qualifier on Friday.
The 23-year-old Blackburn Rovers striker, who came through
the ranks at Hajduk Split, completed Croatia's recovery with a
78th-minute effort that sent the home crowd into raptures.
"The winning goal will come as a tremendous confidence boost
after I was starved of first-team football at Blackburn for the
best part of this season," a delighted Kalinic told Croatian
"The most important thing, though, is we fought back after
falling behind to earn three priceless points."
The victory lifted Croatia to the top of Group F with 13
points from six matches, ahead of Greece who have 11 from five
and Israel who are on 10 points from six games.
The Croatians had drawn six and lost three matches at Poljud
since first playing there as an independent nation in 1995 and
the jinx seemed set to continue when they fell behind against
the run of play.
Georgia winger David Siradze was given too much room to
operate on the right flank and Jaba Kankava ghosted in at the
near post to head his pinpoint cross past Croatia keeper Vedran
Runje after 17 minutes.
The home side, repeatedly frustrated by a packed Goergian
defence, hit the woodwork three times before Mario Mandzukic
equalised in the 76th minute with a neat finish from the edge of
the six-yard box.
Second-half substitutes Ivan Klasnic and Tomislav Dujmovic
carved Georgia open with a delightful one-two and the latter
squared the ball for Mandzukic to steer it past keeper Giorgi
Loria with a deft touch.
Roared on by 35,000 fans who lit flares and set off
fireworks, the Croatians went marauding down the right flank
almost straight from the restart and got their reward through
some superb individual skill from their forwards.
Former Arsenal striker Eduardo teased and taunted three
defenders before threading a superb low cross for Kalinic to
slide in and drill the ball past Loria.
"I have to congratulate my players for showing resilience
and character after a poor first half to keep their composure
and claw out a very important win from the jaws of defeat,"
Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said.
"It's difficult to break down teams like Georgia who defend
with 10 men behind the ball but the substitutions paid off and
so did the second-half strategy to play the ball wide and make
deep runs into the penalty box whenever possible.
"We were shaken after falling behind and the players were
too impatient in the first half but I believe we are now in a
good position to qualify for the finals," added Bilic.
England striker puts pen to paper on permanent deal
The new season is but six weeks away (in the Football League)
"Get on the weights," says expert
Estudiantes hang on for victory in bizarre season-defining match
Who would you rather have playing for your club?
12 months out, the stars look to the World Cup
Your questions answered by an A to Z of legends
75% of all TV is Bale
On the road to ruin
Adidas Nitrocharge for you
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010