BRATISLAVA, Oct. 12 (Xinhua) — Slovakia put up a solid fight in Croatia and finished the Group H game of the World Cup European Qualifiers with a 2-2 draw on Monday.
In the other Monday fixtures of Group H, the bottom-ranked teams Malta and Cyprus finished their clash with a 2-2 draw, putting an end to a series of defeats, and Russia outscored Slovenia 2-1, moving to the top of the standings with a two-point lead.
Croatia has to give up its top spot and stands second with 17 points, Slovakia is third with 10. Slovenia also scored 10 points so far but conceded one goal more and is sitting in fourth place.
The top-ranked team of each group in 10 rounds will advance to the world tournament in Qatar, while the second-placed teams will have to enter the play-offs.
In the 20th minute of the clash between Croatia and Slovakia, Ivan Schranz got fouled on a fastbreak and moments later, Marek Hamsik’s precise free-kick pass found Schranz in the box who sent a nice header into Croatia’s net to take the lead for the visitors.
Five minutes later, the home team tied the game on a corner kick when Slovakia defenseman Peter Pekarik redirected the ball with his head directly into his own penalty box and Andrej Kramaric had not rouble putting it in with yet another header.
Thirty minutes into the game, Mario Pasalic was centimeters away from putting his team ahead but his shot from close range was defused by a quick reaction of Slovakia keeper Marek Rodak.
In the final minute of the first half, Slovakia’s fastbreak resulted in Ladislav Almasi finding Lukas Haraslin unguarded with a pass through the penalty area and the Sparta Prague midfielder Haraslin sent the ball into the net with a low shot near the post to put the visitors ahead again, 2-1.
“We intended to send long passes into the box and this time it worked great. Pity we couldn’t defend the lead but we left everything on the pitch today. It was a very demanding match on tough terrain soaked by constant rain,” said Haraslin after the game.
Both teams were struggling in the final stage of their attacks but Croatia was offered a free-kick from close to the border of the penalty area in the 71st minute and Luka Modric tied the attractive battle at 2-2.