New Croatia coach Ante Čačić began his new job with a comfortable win against Bulgaria in Zagreb which secures them at least a spot in the play-offs for UEFA EURO 2016.
After three matches without a victory in Group H under former boss Niko Kovač, leading to a change in management, the third-placed hosts saw off Bulgaria and remained in the race for automatic qualification for next summer’s tournament.
Čačić could not have wished for a better start when Ivan Perišić scored the second-minute opener to ease pre-match nerves. Luka Modrić sent an excellent ball through a host of Bulgarian defenders and Perišić was on hand to net his fifth goal of the campaign.
Croatia's supremacy continued with both Nikola Kalinić and Perišić having several opportunities to widen the gap. They eventually doubled their lead before the break, after Ivan Rakitić played an excellent double-pass combination with in-form Fiorentina striker Kalinić.
Rakitić picked up the ball and fired home to extend the advantage going into the interval. To the surprise of some, Modrić was substituted at half-time, with Milan Badelj replacing him, while Bulgaria coach Ivaylo Petev also shuffled his pack with two changes.
After the restart, Kalinić had a succession of excellent chances to get on the scoresheet but his powerful header was saved by goalkeeper Bozhidar Mitrev, who then watched a second attempt fly well wide.
Croatia remained the dominant force yet had their work cut out as Bulgaria sought to expose them down the flanks. There was no need for anxiety, however, when in the 81st minute Perišić supplied Kalinić with an exquisite cross which he tucked into the net.
As the full-time whistle blew on a wet evening in Zagreb, Čačić's charges celebrated a victory which maintains their bid to qualify for France. Not even a late red card for substitute Duje Čop, for a challenge on Strahil Popov, could dampen the mood.
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