Ivan Perisic inspires Croatia to victory over Wales in Euro 2020 qualifier
Left winger provides the difference between the two sides in a 2-1 win in Osijek
If June 2019 will never have the same place as the summer of 2018 in Croatian folklore, at least it offered respite after a chastening year. The World Cup finalists can now be more confident of qualifying for Euro 2020.
They may not have registered a shot on target in the first half against Wales and could have conceded an equaliser in a nervous finale, but they defeated another of the international game’s recent overachievers.
For Ryan Giggs, a sixth setback in 12 games felt a missed opportunity, given the chances fashioned, but the decisive left winger was Ivan Perisic, not the Wales manager. Not for the first time, the Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric was also upstaged by Perisic.
A scorer in both the World Cup semi-final and final found the net again to determine a clash of the poster boys for smaller nations; in Euro 2016, Wales became the smallest to reach the semi-finals of the European Championships, in 2018 Croatia the smallest to be the runners-up in the World Cup.
Yet relegation from the Nations League followed after a 6-0 defeat to Spain. They lost a lead and a game to Hungary in Euro 2020 qualifying. They hosted Wales without a phalanx of the men they had in Moscow: the retired Mario Mandzukic, Vedran Corluka and Danijel Subasic, the injured Ivan Rakitic and Ante Rebic, plus Ivan Strinic, who has not played for a year because of a heart complaint. Many of their greatest generation were absent and, 12 months on, they looked a lesser side.
But Perisic helped compensate. So did Wales’ tactics. Giggs kept his front three in advanced areas, left his full-backs exposed and Perisic profited. He brought incision. Seconds after Harry Wilson claimed a free kick on the edge of Croatia’s box, Wales trailed. Perisic escaped from Connor Roberts at will and when the winger crossed, James Lawrence, in his attempt to deny Andrej Kramaric a tap-in, inadvertently applied the final touch.
It was an illustration of Kramaric’s fine movement and it highlighted one of Giggs’ policies. Wales’ Euro 2016 defence were largely found on the bench. With Ashley Williams in stark decline, Lawrence started.
Roberts has been promoted above Chris Gunter, Wales’ most capped player, but endured a traumatic time. Perisic was too forceful for him when he drilled in Croatia’s second goal, a minute after Mateo Kovacic was unfortunate to have a strike disallowed and following a host of Welsh errors.
In his defence, Giggs made a difference with his changes. They showed Wales’ new-found strength in depth and the attacking gifts they now possess. The substitute David Brooks scored a first international goal with a 20-year shot that took a telling deflection off Domagoj Vida’s head.
Yet for Wales, the regret should be that they were too slow to show their threat. They could lament the three chances Harry Wilson spurned; the second, just before half-time, came when goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic spilled his shot and Will Vaulks was unable to prod in the rebound. The third came in stoppage time, with a stretching Wilson only connecting tamely with Gareth Bale’s inviting pass.
If Wales missed the injured Aaron Ramsey, Croatia nonetheless resorted to illegal means to halt them. They collected five cautions, two for fouls on Bale. Vida was booked for preventing Manchester United’s prospective signing Daniel James from speeding away from him, while Tin Jedvaj was fortunate a reprehensible challenge on Joe Allen only drew a yellow card.
Wales must hope bruises heal quickly. They visit Hungary on Tuesday, completing a double-header that always threatened to have considerable consequences. Now Croatia can savour the sense at least one rival will drop points.
Published: June 8, 2019 07:51 PM