Croatia will line up in the UEFA EURO 2012 play-offs after defeating Latvia in Rijeka, the win proving insufficient to take them top of Group F after leaders Greece prevailed in Georgia.
Slaven Bilić's side lost control of the section when they succumbed to Greece on Friday, and they were unable to wrest it back in the final round of qualifiers, despite second-half strikes from Eduardo and Mario Mandžukić.
The hosts could have won the match more comfortably but found Andris Vaņins a difficult obstacle to bypass, the visiting goalkeeper pulling off a string of saves throughout. Indeed, Croatia began to threaten his goal from the very start, with Eduardo firing over with a ferocious effort. The influential Luka Modrić then narrowly missed the target after 13 minutes.
Latvia's attempts to counterattack proved ineffectual until a slip from Dejan Lovren offered Artjoms Rudņevs the chance to score. One on one with Stipe Pletikosa, he failed to beat the Croatia No1. Sevilla FC midfielder Ivan Rakitić went tantalisingly close at the other end via a free-kick close to the half-hour, and although Rudņevs spurned another opening after the break, it was Croatia who applied the more concerted pressure as time ticked down.
The visitors eventually cracked after 66 minutes when Ivan Strinić sent Eduardo clear courtesy of a superb long pass, and the FC Shakhtar Donetsk striker was able to do the rest. Mandžukić sealed the victory six minutes later with a fine header from Darijo Srna's right-wing delivery. Bilić's men must now wait for Thursday's draw in Krakow to learn who they must overcome to secure a place in Poland and Ukraine.
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