Croatia 2-1 Wales: Euro 2020 qualifier – as it happened

Last modified: 03: 31 PM GMT+0

Ivan Perišić was the star as Croatia won in Osijek, though Wales asked a few questions of the World Cup runners-up towards the end of an entertaining match.

Match report from our man in Osijek

No word from Ryan Giggs. Sure he’ll be talking later. So that’s your lot for this MBM. More live action coming up immediately at the Women’s World Cup. Thanks for reading!

So the three points put Croatia top of Group E on six points. Wales are third on three. Hungary can leapfrog them both if they win big in Azerbaijan later this afternoon.


FULL TIME: Croatia 2-1 Wales

And that’s that. Croatia deserve the win over the 90 minutes, but my goodness Wales asked some questions during the closing stages. No points today, but their character and determination against a very good team will give Ryan Giggs hope going forward.

90 min +5: Skoric has a dig from the edge of the Wales area, but it’s blocked.

90 min +4: That Brozovic booking, followed by the substitution, has eaten up plenty of time ... and more importantly nixed that end-to-end momentum that was giving Wales a sniff.

90 min +3: Perisic is replaced by Skoric.

90 min +2: Brozovic is booked for a loose one on Allen.

90 min +1: This is wild end-to-end fun! First Kramaric cuts in from the left and sees his shot blocked by Hennessey. Then Bale, up the other end, crosses low from the right, only for Brooks to tickle a shot from the penalty spot towards the bottom left, Livakovic gathering.

90 min: There will be five added minutes. Roberts goes over in the Croatia area, but he’s not getting a penalty.

89 min: What an exciting end to this marvellous match. Brooks crosses long from the left. Livakovic, under no pressure but strangely hesitant, very nearly allows it to fly out his box on the right. Wilson was arriving on the scene. But the keeper grabs it on the line.

88 min: Bale crosses deep from the left. Wilson’s racing in at the far post. He heads high and wide, rashly so as he might have had time to take that down and size up the situation from there. It was a hellishly difficult chance to convert first time, put it that way.

87 min: Kramaric is once again sent free, Modric wedging a stunning pass down the inside-right channel. It’s begging to be hit as it drops over the striker’s shoulder, a la Jamie Vardy, but Kramaric allows it to bounce, then slices one wildly wide.

85 min: Kramaric scampers into space down the right. He’s got men in the middle, but can only dribble a low cross to Lawrence, who clears after a fashion. Both sets of players seem painfully aware that this is in the balance, and the next few minutes will make such a difference to Group E.

83 min: Modric slides Perisic into space down the left, but the winger shoots wildly behind. Croatia are fading badly in this second half, just as they had in the first.

82 min: Croatia are sitting back and inviting pressure. The Welsh fans are in fine voice right now, singing their hymns and arias.

81 min: Wales are pushing Croatia back. The hosts are beginning to look nervous, and a loop into the mixer leads to a corner on the left. Mepham meets the set piece, but his header is weak and gently wafts into the arms of Livakovic.

80 min: That’s the last act for James, who is exchanged for Matondo.

79 min: Jedvaj goes down after a garden-variety challenge by James, taking the opportunity to draw a little of the sting from the situation. Classic game management.

GOAL! Croatia 2-1 Wales (Brooks 77)

A huge slice of luck for Wales! Brooks, to the right of the Croatia D, switches his feet and shoots for the top left. The ball clips off Vida’s head and flies into the top right, with Livakovic going the wrong way! Wales, who had edged their way back into the game during the previous few minutes, are still in this!

Bale celebrates their first goal, scored by Brooks.
Bale celebrates their first goal, scored by Brooks. Photograph: Antonio Bronić/Reuters


76 min: Badelj comes on for Kovacic.

74 min: Bale creams a shot towards the bottom left from 25 yards. Livakovic does well to turn the dipping, swerving ball around the post. From the corner, Allen causes some mild panic amid a bustling box, but Croatia eventually clear their lines.

73 min: Allen plays a cute reverse pass down the inside-left channel and nearly releases James. The new United winger is eased out of it by the old Liverpool defender Lovren ... but only just. James hasn’t seen much of the ball today, but has looked threatening on the few occasions he has.

72 min: Head tennis in the centre circle. Put your foot on it, someone, will you.

70 min: A cooling break. Delicious water, tasty water.

68 min: James sprints after a lost cause down the left. It’s going to be a throw to Croatia. But he draws a foul from Vida, who slides in recklessly, and pointlessly seeing the ball’s out of play. That’s a yellow card, and more succour for Manchester United supporters, who will enjoy watching this pacy, skilful winger next season.

66 min: And then a second Welsh substitution as Ampadu replaces Vaulks. Croatia respond by swapping Brekalo for Pasalic.

65 min: Brooks prepares to come on for Smith. Before that can happen, an agitated Allen throws hands at Barisic. Wilson getting involved too. But it all quickly calms down.

63 min: All a bit scrappy now. The players on both sides perhaps dreaming of the upcoming cooling break.

61 min: Thing is, Wales have had their chances this afternoon. It’s not a stretch to say they could easily have scored three. They’ve been second best for the majority of the match so far, but even so they’ve caused problems for a very fine team.

59 min: Allen scoops a fine pass down the inside-right channel for Bale. He’s two on one, with Wilson to his left, totally free. Bale opts to take on the shot himself, cutting inside and softly curling into the arms of Livakovic. That’s a poor effort, and not a much better decision, as Wilson was in acres. Though to be fair, it was a decent opportunity on its own terms, and he is Gareth Bale, so.

57 min: Croatia re-establish control with some sterile domination in the middle of the park.

55 min: Bale can’t keep the resulting free kick down. Over the bar it flies, as he looks for the top left.

54 min: Lovren is livid. He rises above Bale to win a header on the edge of his own box. His arms are out as he jumps, and one of them brushes the top of Bale’s head. It looks a fairly won header, but the referee considers it a foul, and furthermore books the defender. That’s a bit harsh, but then Jedvaj got away with one big-style a couple of minutes ago, so it’s swings and roundabouts.

52 min: So much for Welsh momentum at the end of the first half. It’s all Croatia again. An awful lot of passing, this way and that. Then suddenly Kovacic slips a ball down the inside-right channel to release Kramaric into the area. He’s free, but the flag goes up. That was an extremely tight decision, Kramaric looked level. But once again Wales get the benefit of the doubt.

50 min: Jedvaj is booked for an extremely unpleasant tackle on Allen. Studs on shin, and he really should be walking for that. Allen is lucky that he’s not seriously injured.

GOAL! Croatia 2-0 Wales (Perisic 49)

But they don’t get the luck here. A little bit of pinball in the Welsh box, and Modric forces the ball to Perisic on his left. Perisic takes a touch inside, then slams a shot into the bottom left. That really had been coming, because after the disallowed Kovacic effort, Brozovic lifted a 20-yard shot over the bar. Wales up against it now.

47 min: Brekalo tears down the right and cuts into the Wales box. Brekalo slams a shot towards the bottom right. Hennessey sticks out a leg to stop it, a fine save, but the ball breaks back to Kovacic on the edge of the area. Kovacic fires a shot into the bottom right, but it’s ruled out for offside, Kramaric standing alone behind the Welsh back line. But he wasn’t in Hennessey’s eyeline, so Wales have arguably got away with one there.

We go again! No half-time substitutions, and Wales get the second half underway.

Half-time entertainment. Another Saturday, another superb Barney Ronay column. ¡No pasarán!

HALF TIME: Croatia 1-0 Wales

That’s that for the first 45. Croatia have been the superior side, Wales at times unable to get a sniff. And yet there’s only one goal in it. In addition, Wales have stung Livakovic’s palms on two occasions, finishing the half strongly. They’ll take some confidence from that.


45 min: Sadly the corner from Vaulks is dismal, hung high in the air, an easy one for Livakovic to pluck from the sky.

44 min: Wales finally have their tails up, Lawrence sending Smith off down the left. He earns a corner. What a time this would be to equalise!

42 min: And then, out of nothing, Wales nearly equalise! James has his first look down the left, checks back and curls one to the far post. Wilson hooks it back for the incoming Vaulks, who bundles an effort goalwards. Livakovic makes a real mess of the save, nearly clanking it off the lurking Davies and into the goal. But he gathers just in time. Still, much, much better from Wales, and that delicious deep cross from James will have got quite a few Manchester United fans excited.

James is challenged by Croatia defender Lovren.
James is challenged by Croatia defender Lovren. Photograph: Darko Bandić/AP


40 min: Bale is showing signs of losing his rag. A couple of minutes ago, he bumped chests with Livakovic as the keeper gathered a long punt. Now he’s shanking a wild pass up into the air in the midfield. A hot day alright.

38 min: Brozovic rolls a cheeky pass down the middle for Modric. The Croatian captain has no right to get in between the Welsh centre backs, but very nearly does so. His persistence doesn’t quite pay off, as Mepham fights as hard as he can to ensure Modric can’t flick a shot away. But that was close, and Wales really need to hear the half-time whistle.

36 min: Croatia are this close to a second. Allen loses the ball just inside the Croatian half. The hosts break with great purpose, Modric rolling a pass down the left for Kramaric, who strides towards the box, cuts inside, and sends a power curl towards the top right. Hennessey is beaten all ends up, but the ball whistles inches over the bar. That would have been a pretty picture.

34 min: Some more very slick possession play by Croatia. Wales can’t get a touch. Faintly mesmeric under the hazy summer sun.

32 min: Perisic launches a diagonal pass towards Brekalo on the right. Brekalo’s one step away from being able to keep it in play and hook it into the centre, but can’t quite wrap his foot around the ball and it slices out for a goal kick. Once again, Wales are being burned down the flanks.

31 min: Bale has a little probe down the right, but to no great effect. The hosts are looking pretty comfortable.

29 min: The pace of the game has dropped suddenly, and significantly. Were members from the 1990 Argentinian World Cup squad at those drinks bottles?


27 min: Vaulks slips a pass down the inside-right channel with a view to releasing Bale, but the Wales captain is clearly offside. Up goes the flag. But at least Bale is moving freely after that injury scare.

25 min: And then a cooling break. Time out for drinks and cucumber sandwiches .

24 min: Bale has his toes flattened by the clumsy Kovacic. For a second it looks serious as he drums the ground with his fist in agony. But he’s up again quickly enough, to great Welsh relief.

22 min: Croatia aren’t too shabby down the right wing, either. Brozovic has a look along the flank, and his cross causes mild panic before it’s hacked away.

20 min: Wales take the sting out of the game a little by faffing over a throw in the midfield. Time to regroup after the shock of conceding.

18 min: Croatia are causing havoc down this left wing. They’re looking for Perisic short, they’re looking for him long. And finding him most times. Roberts has a real job on today, and he’s not getting too much support.

GOAL! Croatia 1-0 Wales (Lawrence og 17)

Bale nearly wins a long ball on the edge of the Croatian box, but can’t bring it down under pressure from Vida. Wilson tries to pick up the scraps, but is bowled over. A very light tug from Kovacic. He wants the foul, but he isn’t getting it. And the non-decision really costs Wales, because the hosts stream up the other end. A long ball down the left sends Perisic away in acres. He reaches the box and contemplates a shot, but fires a low cross into the six-yard box instead. Lawrence, rushing back, takes his eye off the ball as it clanks onto his shins and into the net. To be fair, Kramaric was lurking, he had to do something.


15 min: Croatia continue to hog the ball. Barisic and Perisic combine well down the left, but Davies mops up in the middle and his keeper can gather.

13 min: Croatia work a short corner to Modric, who slips a pass inside for Perisic, just to the left of the D. It’s half a chance, but he hoicks his shot wide left and screams in frustration. This has been a pleasingly open encounter so far. Both teams are trying to play their football.

12 min: Modric dances past a couple of half-arsed challenges in the midfield, then sprays a glorious pass wide right for Brekalo. A low cross fizzes through the six-yard box, and Mepham is forced to knock the ball out for a corner near his own left-hand post.

10 min: And so, after all that, it’s Wales who get the first meaningful shot on target! There’s some very quick thinking by Bale, who takes a quick throw from the right, near the halfway line. It’s a long, athletic launch, and it finds Wilson on the edge of the box! Wilson gives the bouncing ball a good larrup, but it’s straight at Livakovic, who claims easily enough. That was a very decent chance.

8 min: Perisic again. He zips down the left and makes enough space for a shot, albeit from a tight angle. He sends a riser over the bar. Hennessey had it covered. But there was some fizz in that strike. Perisic looks in the mood.

7 min: Wales win a throw in the midfield, a Lovren pass going astray, and the away fans erupt in good-natured irony. Their team has been chasing shadows on this very sunny day. Croatia are soon coming back at Wales, though, Kramaric nearly beating Mepham in a footrace down the inside-left channel ... but the Welsh centre-half holds his position well and shepherds the Croatian striker out of play. Goal kick.

5 min: More from Perisic, who is extremely busy in these opening exchanges. A shimmy and a shake, and both Roberts and Vaulks are sent the wrong way on the left. His cross is easy pickings for Hennessey, though. Wales will need to weather an early storm by the looks of it so far.

3 min: Wales haven’t had a touch of note yet. There’s a fine atmosphere at the Gradski vrt ... the City Garden. No time for Wales to stop and smell the flowers, though, as Perisic has another sniff down the left wing. His ball inside is cleared by Roberts.

A minute’s silence in memory of erstwhile Uefa bigwig Lennart Johansson ... perfectly observed ... and we’re off! The hosts get this qualifier underway, and they’re quickly on the front foot, Perisic making good ground down the left. There’s a little bit of pinball in the Welsh box, but the visitors resist. Just 89 minutes and 30 seconds left to hold out.

Here come the teams! The Welsh second kit is predominantly white, so Croatia politely change out of their iconic red-and-white chequerboard shirts and into their own alternative of black-and-navy check. Wales in red. Anthems are trilled, pennants are swapped, hands are clasped, and we’ll be off before you know it!

Ryan Giggs speaks ... and it’s fairly clear he wants to play a possession-based game. “The conditions are going to play a part. It’s hot, so we need to keep the ball. But we must recognise we’re away from home, so we need to be solid. At times, dig in. But we want to keep the ball too. We’ve got players who can hurt any opposition, so we want to get the ball to them as quickly as possible. Obviously if you’re not keeping the ball, and you’re constantly running about, it’s going to affect you more than if you keep the ball and you get your rest when you have the ball. So a big emphasis on that. It’s not going to be easy, it’s good that we have water breaks, that’ll help. But it’s the same for both teams. We’re ready, we’ve had good preparations, and we’re up for the challenge.”

Daniel James, on his way from Swansea City to Manchester United, starts after scoring the winner on his competitive debut against Slovakia in March. Wales make one change from that match, Will Vaulks coming in for David Brooks.

Croatia made three changes from the team that went down 2-1 in Hungary three months ago. Ivan Rakitic and Ante Rebic are injured, while goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic drops to the bench; Dominik Livakovic, Mateo Kovacic and Josip Brekalo take their places.

The teams

Croatia: Livakovic, Jedvaj, Lovren, Vida, Barisic, Modric, Brozovic, Brekalo, Kovacic, Perisic, Kramaric.
Subs: Kalinic, Melnjak, Caleta-Car, Skoric, Benkovic, Pasalic, Halilovic, Caktas, Badelj, Petkovic, Bartolec, Sluga.

Wales: Hennessey, Roberts, Mepham, Jamie Lawrence, Ben Davies, Wilson, Allen, Smith, James, Vaulks, Bale.
Subs: Ward, Gunter, Neil Taylor, Ashley Williams, Vokes, Levitt, Brooks, Matondo, Ampadu, Tom Lawrence, Lockyer, Adam Davies.

Referee: Istvan Kovacs (Romania).



Croatia haven’t really been at the races since becoming the second-smallest nation in history to reach a World Cup final last summer. In the aftermath of being dispatched by France in Moscow, they’ve only won two competitive fixtures out of five: a rollercoaster 3-2 Nations League win over Spain in Zagreb that was comprehensively offset by a 6-0 defeat on the Spaniards’ own turf, and a slim victory at home against Azerbaijan in their first Euro 2020 qualifier. All a bit post-Lord-Mayor’s-show.

That 2-1 win over the Azerbaijanis was swiftly followed by defeat in Hungary against a team, it’s safe to say, still in transition in the wake of their 1954 World Cup heartache. Zlatko Dalic’s men need to get back on the horse quicksmart if the 2018 World Cup runners-up aren’t to miss the Euro 2020 party.

There are quite a lot of good omens for Croatia, though. For starters, they’ve never, ever, ever lost a European Championship qualifier at home! That’s a 32-match run that stretches all the way back to 1994. They’re also on something of a hot streak at home in general, unbeaten since 2013. They’ve never been beaten by the Welsh, winning three of four matches and drawing the other. They’ve never lost in Osijek, winning nine of 11. And it’s expected to be hot.

So this is a big ask for Wales, and a huge chance for Croatia to regain some momentum towards the Euros. “We recognise we’re up against it,” says Ryan Giggs. “But we’re ready.” Can they stun Croatia by making it two wins from two in Group E, following a narrow home win over Slovakia secured by Manchester United new boy Daniel James? Kick-off is at 2pm. It’s on!


Scott Murray

The GuardianTramp

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