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Croatia vs Serbia, 2014 World Cup qualifying: Final score 2-0 as Croatia win easily

The expected tensions between Croatia and Serbia took a back seat to the play of the hosts, as Croatia dominated throughout the match. With such hapless play, Serbia's dreams of qualifying for Brazil may well have ended.

Charlie Crowhurst

Croatia and Serbia met for the first time as independent countries on Friday, playing their World Cup qualifying match in front of an entirely Croatian crowd in Zagreb. While the crowd booed the Serbian anthem and chanted "Kill the Serbs," the players managed to keep their attention focused on the match, refusing to let any tensions bubble over. But the result was just as expected: Croatia dominated throughout, and even when Serbia managed to take possession, they were unable to make it count.

The first half started off badly for the Serbs and just kept getting worse. Croatia pressured right from the start, while Serbia sat back and attempted to hit them on the counter, except the visitors just couldn't get the hang of the actual "counter" part of that strategy. Croatia effectively shut them down in the rare times Serbia came anywhere near the final third, before turning and applying the pressure once again. Luka Modric was everywhere, pulling the midfield strings, orchestrating chances and generally making the Serbian players regret making the trip.

Croatia had their first goal before they'd reached the half hour mark. A free kick from Serbia collided with Mario Mandzukic, allowing Ivan Rakitic to take possession. The midfielder sent the ball along to Ivica Olic, whose run toward goal pulled Neven Subotic away from Mandzukic. Olic cut over and Mandzukic had an easy tap in.

Croatia's second was also the result of a comedy of errors by the Serbian defense. Croatia earned a free kick in what wouldn't normally be termed a "dangerous position", but the beautiful ball in from Darijo Srna turned dangerous very quickly. Zeljko Brkic couldn't push the ball far enough away, and Olic easily slipped around Branislav Ivanovic to chest the ball into goal.

Surprisingly, it was Serbia who created the first good chance of the second half. Aleksandar Kolarov sent in a shot from distance, startling Stipe Pletikosa into consciousness and forcing him to push the ball away. The ball fell to Filip Djordjevic, who came on for Marko Scepovic in the 10th minute. Perhaps if Sinisa Mihajlovic had someone better available off the bench, Serbia would have made the match more interesting. As it was, Djordjevic missed an open net and Serbia's hopes fell even lower.

Croatia were back into it by the 60th minute, sending in shot after shot, none of which Brkic was able to confidently deal with. Fortunately for Serbia's pride, the defense seemed to have remembered how to play, and managed to beat back each attempt.

More than that, though, was the fact that the Serbs finally realized that they needed to attack if they were going to make it to Brazil in 2014. Unfortunately, they forgot to bring anyone who could manage to send in a decent free kick along to Zagreb. Even as Croatia started to give away silly fouls, Serbia were unable to capitalize, with their kicks hitting the wall or being easily batted away by the Croatian defense.

It started to appear as though, even if the entire Croatian team walked off the pitch, Serbia still wouldn't be able to score. With just a bit more than ten minutes to go, it seemed that Serbia would finally get a goal. Dusan Tadic, in for Alan Stevanovic, sent in a great, sharp shot that Pletikosa had difficulty keeping under control. But again, the ball fell for Djordjevic, who was only able to send it straight back to the keeper.

After that, the visitors seemed even more hapless, perhaps realizing they wouldn't even come close to getting anything from the match. After such a display, it's hard to believe Serbia will even score again in World Cup qualifying, much less find themselves on a plane to Brazil.

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