Croatia got their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign back on track after a first-half header by Mario Pasalic gave them a laboured 1-0 home win over Cyprus in Group H on Saturday with captain Luka Modric celebrating a record 135th international cap.
Modric broke the record set by former Croatia defender Darijo Srna and produced an industrious performance at Rujevica stadium as Croatia were made to work hard for their victory.
The result left the Croatians on three points from two games after their opening 1-0 defeat at Slovenia while Cyprus have one point after a 0-0 draw with Slovakia. Russia top the group with six points after they beat Slovenia 2-1 earlier on Saturday.
Croatia, the 2018 World Cup runners-up, laid siege to the Cypriots from the start but were confined to a flurry of crosses and several half-chances before Pasalic broke the deadlock in the 40th minute.
Pasalic had glanced a header wide early on while Modric and Marcelo Brozovic went close from long range before visiting goalkeeper Demetris Demetriou was taken off with a groin injury and made way for substitute Neophytos Michael.
Michael’s first task was to pick the ball out of the net a minute after he came on as Konstantinous Sotirou’s miscued clearance after a Croatian raid down the right flank gifted Pasalic space to nod the ball home from close range.
Croatia continued to press in the second half but they were unable to win by a bigger margin as the Cypriot defence held firm, although the visitors failed to carve out anything up front.