Croatia beats Serbia 2-0 in tense WCup qualifier

Croatia beat Serbia 2-0 in a highly charged 2014 World Cup

qualifier on Friday, the first match as independent states between

the bitter Balkan foes since their war in the 1990s.

Serbian players were greeted with nationalist chants – including

”Kill, Kill the Serbs” – from the packed Maksimir stadium, where

thousands of riot policemen were deployed to prevent trouble from

the home fans. Serbian fans were banned from attending to prevent

possible clashes.

Group A leader Croatia took the lead in the 23rd minute

following a wayward pass by Aleksandar Kolarov that subsequently

gave Mario Mandzukic a simple tap-in from three meters (yards) into

an empty net. Ivica Olic made it 2-0 in the 37th, latching onto a

curling cross from Darijo Srna.

The loss leaves Serbia a distant third behind Belgium in the

group and unlikely to qualify for the tournament in Brazil.

Scotland, Macedonia and Wales are the other teams in Group A.

The match was billed as historic, and much more than a football

game, with tensions running high because of the wartime history

between the two former Yugoslav nations.

The win triggered massive street celebrations and fireworks in

many Croatian cities. Streets in the Serbian capital, Belgrade,

were empty.

”This is a victory for the whole of Croatia,” Olic said, while

Srna added: ”We all know what this means to our country.”

For Mandzukic, ”it was fantastic, and I’ll remember it all my

life.” Serbia coach Sinisa Mihajlovic was meanwhile frank in his

assessment of the match.

”We lost to a more experienced and better team,” he said. ”We

conceded two cheap goals, we played better in the second half, we

had chances, but we paid the price of inexperience. We went into

the game with fear and that’s what happened.”

Pre-match favorite Croatia controlled most of the possession,

with Serbia failing to create any meaningful chances in the first

half.

The first opportunity for the visitors came in the 47th minute

after a powerful shot from Kolarov was blocked by Croatia

goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa and Serbia forward Filip Djordjevic

narrowly failed to connect with the rebound from close range.

Djordjevic later missed Serbia’s best opportunity, with Pletikosa

diving to save in a one-on-one situation 15 minutes from the

end.

For the hosts, Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric unleashed a

shot from 18 meters (yards) that flew narrowly wide in the 51st

minute. He and Olic then missed two good opportunities as Serbia

pushed forward, and Croatia opted for counter attacks.

”This was an extremely tough game,” Serbia defender Branislav

Ivanovic said. ”We all went into this game under immense pressure

and I think it affected the young players. We lacked

determination.”

Croatia coach Igor Stimac praised the support from the Croatia

fans, ”except for those derogatory chants” and warned his players

not to get carried away.

”We should not get too euphoric, we are only halfway to

Brazil,” he said.

Croatia’s next match is away to Wales on Tuesday, while Serbia

is at home to Scotland.

Jovana Gec contributed to this report from Belgrade, Serbia.