• Luka Modrić scores on his 29th birthday to set Croatia on path to victory
• Substitute Andrej Kramarić secures the points with 81st-minute finish
• Malta play 59 minutes with ten men after dismissal of defender Steve Borg
• The result is Croatia's sixth victory against Malta in seven matches
• Next games: Bulgaria v Croatia, Malta v Norway (10 October)
Luka Modrić scored on his 29th birthday and substitute Andrej Kramarić added a second as Croatia were forced to battle hard to take three points against ten-man Malta in their Group H opener.
Niko Kovač announced that his players would attack from the off ahead of the match, but contrary to those intentions it was Malta who had the first big chance. Ryan Camilleri broke into the penalty area in just the second minute, but his shot was directed straight at home goalkeeper Danijel Subašić.
That proved the only big Maltese opening of the match as Croatia took control. Despite dominating both possession and territory the hosts were struggling to craft the chances, but received a major boost in the 31st minute when Steve Borg was shown a red card after an altercation with Mario Mandžukić. Croatia might have been expected to go on and score after the dismissal, but laboured until the half-time whistle.
It was a completely different story after the restart, as from the first attack, Darijo Srna laid off for Modrić in the middle and the Real Madrid CF midfielder drove a low shot into the bottom corner from 20m on the occasion of his 80th cap.
The Croatian domination continued after the goal and they looked much more dangerous than in the first period. Chances came in quick succession, but the goal that wrapped it up did not arrive until the 81st minute. Kramarić received a well-weighted pass from fellow substitute Nikica Jelavić and shot low to seal the three points.