Euro 2020: Perisic is Croatia’s Secret Weapon
Croatia 2-1 Wales
The more I see of him, the more you can see why then Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was so keen to snap up Ivan Perisic from Inter Milan last summer.
For here is a player who makes Croatia tick.
What happened in the Stadion Gradski in Osijek was merely further proof that he is a class act.
Highlights of the game
David Brooks celebrates after netting a goal during a Euro 2020 qualifier between Wales and Croatia
Before kick-off much of the talk was about the meeting between Real Madrid club mates Luka Modric and Gareth Bale.
Bale had been linked with a return to England in several reports, as picked up by SBOBET, while Modric warned his international team mates they must be alert and pay special attention, such is his talent and ability to create Euro 2020 qualifying highlights single-handedly.
Aaron Ramsey, James Chester and Paul Dummett all missed out on the squad due to injury.
As for Croatia, they were without Barcelona man Ivan Rakitic and Eintracht Frankfurt striker Ante Rebic, yet it turned out they had more than enough quality elsewhere, led by Perisic.
On paper, this was always going to be the toughest fixture of Wales' Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
After all, not only are Croatia Group E’s top seeds and ranked fifth in the world but it’s less than a year since they reached last summer's World Cup final.
Both sides knew this Euro 2020 qualifying tie was potentially key as to what follows next summer.
And no-one more than Perisic.
With temperatures around the 30 degrees Celsius mark, Wales manager Ryan Giggs was well aware of the size of the task facing his side and said there would be spells where they would have to ‘dig in’.
Little did he know that they would create such a gilt-edged opportunity so early, one which their failure to convert proved costly.
Bale was the creator and Harry Wilson could only shoot straight at home goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
That was the chance as the lively Perisic began to be instrumental at a ground where Croatia had been unbeaten in their previous 11 matches.
Indeed, it wasn’t long before he helped his team make the breakthrough, scampering into the box as the visitors were far too open and fizzing a low cross into the danger zone which James Lawrence could only help into his own net.
Such was the heat, both players were allowed a water break midway through the first half but, when play resumed, the heat remained all on Wales.
Despite this, the next big chance fell to Giggs’ side five minutes before the break.
Youngster Dan James showed his pace and found Wilson who, in turn found Will Vaulks but the midfielder’s effort went straight at the keeper.
Early in the second period and Croatia made them to pay.
Andrej Kramaric had already seen his shot fly in but be ruled out for offside before Wayne Hennessey was beaten by a shot that did count.
Again, the defending was poor. Again, the finish despatched clinically as Perisic smashed home a low effort.
Perisic was tormenting young Connor Roberts and had a team-mate read his intentions on the hour mark it would have been 3-0 and all over.
To their credit, Bale continued to lead by example and drive Wales forward where possible, although it was substitute David Brooks who gave them hope 12 minutes from time.
From a cut-back by the battling Roberts, the Bournemouth man fired in a shot from the edge of the box which took a deflection and looped over the wrong-footed Livakovic.
Brooks again tested Livakovic from a Bale pass in stoppage time but, as the final whistle blew, despite a spirited Welsh effort, it was hard to dispute that the better side had won.
Perisic made sure of that.
Croatia have never lost a home European Championship qualifier - a 33-game unbeaten run stretching back to 1994 - and are unbeaten in all home matches since 2013.
Wales have played Croatia five times, losing four and drawing one.
Croatia have faced Wales in Osijek once before, beating John Toshack's side 2-0 in a 2010 friendly thanks to goals from Rakitic and Drago Gabric.
They have never lost in Osijek, winning nine of their 11 matches there and drawing two.
This was Modric’s121st appearance for Croatia. Darijo Srna is the national record holder with 134.
Midfielder Joe Allen won his 50th cap in this tie.
Lawrence is the first player to score an own goal for Wales since Ashley Williams against Iceland in March 2014.
Croatia entertain Tunisia in an international friendly on Tuesday (June 11) to officially bring their season to a close.
It’s then back to action next season, when the Euro 2020 qualifying betting odds may switch again, as they travel to Sloavkia on September 6.
Wales continue their campaign on Tuesday with a trip to Hungary at the Groupama Arena.
They then also resume next season with another qualifier, also on September 6 at home to Azerbaijan.
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This message was edited by SBOBET on 12-Jun-2019 at 9:55 AM