In a group that includes Belgium and Serbia where only two at most can qualify for the World Cup, Croatia knew that they need to take maximum points from all of the weaker teams in the group, even on the road. They almost didn't or were at least scared that they wouldn't after falling behind 1-0 to Macedonia on Friday, but they came storming back to pull out a vital 2-1 win in Skopje.
With the win, Croatia keeps pace with Belgium in Group A. The two teams are tied atop the group on seven points, three clear of third place Serbia and while Belgium has the edge in goal difference, Croatia got a draw in Brussels last month so they appear to have the slightest upper hand on their challengers.
Macedonia went in front through Agim Ibraimi, who scored in the 16th minute to send the Croatian fans into a panic. The Macedonia fans exploded and began to dream of pulling out a memorable win, but Croatia moved quickly to change that.
As soon as they fell behind, Croatia turned up the pressure. They kept the ball and dictated the tempo, using Luka Modric deeper than he usually plays for them to pull the strings. Before long, Croatia was getting chances at goal, but they could not finish.
Finally, Croatia broke through in the 33rd minute. A corner kick found Vedran Corluka at the back post, who was unmarked and so open that he had time to take a touch and compose himself before finding the net from five yards to equalize.
The goal was as much the result of poor defending by Macedonia as anything Croatia did, but it paled in comparison to the mistake Macedonia made on the Croats' winner.
At the hour mark, Ivan Rakitic stepped to a free kick 40 yards from goal near the sideline on the left with no intention of having a go at goal. Croatia put men in front of goal hoping to get on the end of his ball into the box, but he mishit the ball and it floated high, curling hard and began to make its way towards goal. That should have made it a wasted opportunity for Croatia, but Martin Bogatinov was caught off his line and when he tried to recover, he couldn't quite find his footing. He really just stumbled in an awkward backpedal as the ball floated over his head and into the net to put Croatia 2-1 up.
Once in front, Croatia's possession allowed them to put the match to bed. It wasn't a pretty 90 minutes for the visitors, but it was three points and in a tough Group A, that's all that matters.