Narrow win puts Croatia in Euro 2016 finals

A goal by Ivan Perišić mid-way through the first half enabled Croatia to secure second place in Group H of the European Qualifiers and hence qualify for the Euro 2016 finals next summer as they beat Malta 1-0 at the National Stadium.

Croatia, in fact, moved one point ahead of Norway who saw Italy come from behind to beat them 2-1 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Malta therefore ends its commitments at the bottom of the group with two points from ten matches after two draws against Bulgaria in Sofia last year and against Azerbaijan at Ta’ Qali last month.

Ghedin made two changes from the team which lost 2-0 to Norway in Oslo as Joseph Zerafa and Bjorn Kristensen replaced Alex Muscat and Paul Fenech. Hogg started in goal with Borg, Agius and Zach Muscat as the three central defenders, Zerafa and Failla on the flanks, Briffa, Rowen Muscat and Kristensen in midfield with Andre Schembri supporting Alfred Effiong in attack.

The visitors had two attempts at goal on the 11th with two consecutive efforts by Nikola Kalinić on the 11th. A minute later, a fine volley by Ivan Perišić from the left ended wide. A close-range header by Perišić, who had caught Hogg unprepared, ended just over the bar.

Croatia managed to take the lead on 24 minutes when off a cross from the right, there was a deflection by a defender and the ball reached Ivan Perišić whose conclusion was deflected by Steve Borg past goalkeeper Andrew Hogg.

On the half hour, Marko Pjaca went for Croatia with a rising shot from the left which ended just over the bar.

Four minutes in the second half, Malta had the first attempt at goal with Clayton Failla’s powerful drive by Danijel Subašić.

However on the 59th, the visitors went close again with an assist by Pjaca from the right, from which Ivan Perišić just failed to connect due to a slight deflection by a defender. On the other side of the pitch, six minutes later, Schembri intelligently served Effiong but Subašić managed to intercept before the Nigerian-born striker could conclude.

MALTA Andrew Hogg, Joseph Zerafa, Andrei Agius, Clayton Failla, Roderick Briffa (79′ Paul Fenech), Rowen Muscat, Andre Schembri (90+2′ Andrew Cohen), Steve Borg, Bjorn Kristensen, Alfred Effiong (75′ Michael Mifsud), Zach Muscat.

CROATIA Danijel Subašić, Ivan Perišić, Vedran Ćorluka, Ivan Rakitić (77′ Marcelo Brozović), Marko Pjaca (83′ Ivica Olić), Darijo Srna, Nikola Kalinić (60′ Andrej Kramarić), Milan Badelj, Mateo Kovačić, Domagoj Vida, Josip Pivarić.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg (ENG)
Assistant Referees: Stephen Child, Michael Salisbury (ENG)
Additional Assistant Referees: Craig Pawson (ENG), Lee Mason (ENG)
Fourth Official: Michael Mullarkey (ENG)
Attendance: 5,825