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Zagreb run Northern Irish to ground

Zagreb 3-1 Eastern Region NIR
Božidar Karamatić's terrific free-kick eased Croatian nerves, leaving his side needing just a point to reach the 4 July final as Group B winners.

Zagreb goalscorer Željko Štulec challenges Eastern Region NIR's Scott McMillan
Zagreb goalscorer Željko Štulec challenges Eastern Region NIR's Scott McMillan ©Sportsfile

Early Željko Štulec goal puts Zagreb ahead; substitute Arjan Rexhepi makes it 2-0
Stephen Murray converts penalty before Božidar Karamatić free-kick seals outcome
Next matches: Dolnośląski v Eastern Region NIR, Württemberg v Zagreb (1 July)

Zagreb need only draw in their final game against Württemberg to reach the UEFA Regions' Cup final as Group B winners, Božidar Karamatić's terrific free-kick finally quelling a spirited Eastern Region NIR side.

Confident in possession, and incisive going forward, Zagreb took the lead on eight minutes, Željko Štulec racing through to collect a return ball from Karamatić and peeling off to the left to slide his shot past Eastern Region NIR goalkeeper Brian Neeson. Those two players – skilful, but powerful, with the look of British centre forwards – were to prove a handful all game.

Taking up a position just behind the centre forward, Karamatić tested Neeson two more times before the break, while the Northern Irish side struggled to create clear-cut chances, Stephen Murray and Marcus Dallas coming closest to cancelling out the opener before the break – but really not that close.

Playing for their lives, Eastern Region NIR stepped up the pace at the break, with Messi-alike wide man Joel Cooper getting some purchase down the left. However, within five minutes of coming on as a substitute, Arjan Rexhepi made it 2-0 with his third game of the finals, running on to Robert Janjiš's ball and beating Neeson with a forceful angled shot.

Hope was restored after Filip Rihtar fouled Colm O'Riordan to give Eastern Region NIR a penalty, Stephen Murray converting low to the goalkeeper's left. However, Karamatić replied in spectacular fashion, bending a free-kick from out on the right into Neeson's net off the post.

Zagreb captain Željko Štulec proves a handful for Eastern Region NIR's Andrew Doyle and Scott McMillan
Zagreb captain Željko Štulec proves a handful for Eastern Region NIR's Andrew Doyle and Scott McMillan©Sportsfile
Zagreb midfielder Dorian Puretić evades a challenge from Marcus Dallas
Zagreb midfielder Dorian Puretić evades a challenge from Marcus Dallas©Sportsfile
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