The World Cup Playoff matches in Europe have begun, with Croatia and Switzerland taking huge leads to carry into the second legs. In the Croats case, it’s well deserved, but not so much in regards to Switzerland.
Croatia 4 Greece 1: As expected, Croatia were the better side in the first leg of their Champions League playoff with Greece. However, their dominance from start to finish, which began with Luka Modric scoring from the penalty spot in the 13th minute, was a tad surprising. Now one who has seen the Greek national side do close to the impossible over the years might say that it’s not over, but it was difficult not to be impressed with the Croats, who also boast a significantly better squad.
Ivan Kalinic, who was fouled when Croatia won the penalty kick, put the home side up by two goals in the 19th minutes, converting a cross from Ivan Strinic. Sokratis put Greece back in the picture at the half hour mark by converting a corner kick with his head, but 3 minutes later another cross, this time by Sime Vrsaljko, connected with the red hot Ivan Perisic. The first half ended in a two goal lead, but Kalinic scored his second of the match just before the 50th minute, making it difficult to believe that Greece will somehow make it to the World Cup.
Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1: Northern Ireland have a right to feel robbed; of a better result in the first leg against Switzerland, and possibly of a spot in the World Cup. Yes, Switzerland were the more dominant and dangerous side, but it was an undeserved penalty that gave the visitors a precious away goal. Referee Ovidiu Hategan somehow decided that Xherdan Shaqiri’s shot bouncing off Corry Evans’ tucked arm is enough for a penalty kick, converted by Ricardo Rodriguez. Not exactly fair, but enough to give Switzerland a huge advantage en route to the second leg on Sunday in Basel.
There are two more matches to be played in the first leg session, with the games drawn out instead of happening at one night. Sweden will host Italy, and a day later Denmark will play Ireland. The second leg of Croatia-Greece and Northern Ireland-Switzerland will take place on Sunday.