ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) – Croatia took a decisive step toward World Cup qualification Thursday, overwhelming Greece for a 4-1 victory in the first leg of their playoff.
Captain Luka Modric shook off concerns of poor form by opening the scoring from the penalty spot in the 13th minute, before leaping into the air in celebration.
Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi awarded the penalty after Greece goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis failed to control the ball and fouled Nikola Kalinic with a poorly judged clearance.
Kalinic added another goal six minutes later, flicking in a cross from Ivan Strinic with the side of his foot.
Greece struggled to regain composure and rarely attacked, but Sokratis Papastathopoulos briefly silenced the home crowd, sending a header over keeper Danijel Subasic and into the net.
But relief for the visitors was short lived. Ivan Perisic headed in a cross from Sime Vrsaljko in the 33nd minute as the Croats dominated both wings.
The fourth goal came four minutes after the break from Andrej Kramaric, swooping in after another Greek error, by Kostas Stafylidis.
Greece hosts the second leg of the playoff on Sunday.