Two goals from Niko Kranjčar proved decisive as Croatia overcame Israel in Tel Aviv, opening up a two-point lead at the top of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group F.
The Tottenham Hotspur FC playmaker struck twice in the space of five minutes before half-time – his first coming from the penalty spot – in what was a classy performance from Slaven Bilić's team. Etey Shechter gave Israel hope on 81 minutes, but despite a spell of pressure in the closing stages Croatia held firm to displace Georgia at top of the section.
A warning of what was to come arrived in the seventh minute when Ivan Rakitić rifled a shot against the base of Dudu Aouate's post from the edge of the penalty area. Israel responded with Etey Shechter drawing a fingertip save from Vedran Runje following a solo run from the halfway line, before the Croatia No1 proved equal to Yoav Ziv's shot two minutes later.
Israel's promising spell was nonetheless ended nine minutes before the break when Dekel Keinan was penalised for holding Josip Šimunić and Kranjčar tucked away the spot kick. The Tottenham midfielder then doubled his and Croatia's tally soon after, bending an effort into the far corner after being played in by club-mate Luka Modrić.
The introduction of Roberto Colautti, Lior Refaelov and Eyal Golasa helped Israel gain a measure of control in the second half, though it was not until nine minutes from time that Luis Fernandez's side reduced their arrears. Shechter, emulating his earlier rangy run, collected the ball inside Croatia territory, charged forward and curled a shot inside Runje's far post.
Buoyed by their lifeline, the hosts piled on the pressure in the closing stages, with Aouate even offering his services whenever Israel won a late corner. The equaliser was not forthcoming, however, leaving Croatia two points clear at the summit and Israel three points back in fourth ahead of Tuesday's encounter with Greece.