Croatia dig deep to down Georgia

Croatia 2-1 Georgia Slaven Bilić's men hit the woodwork three times after falling behind early on but remained patient to send themselves top of qualifying Group F.

Croatia celebrate their hard-earned victory against Georgia
Croatia celebrate their hard-earned victory against Georgia ©Getty Images

Croatia fought back from a goal down to exact revenge on Georgia and climb to the summit of Group F.

Slaven Bilić's men suffered a 1-0 loss away against the same opponents in their previous UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier in March and their supporters must have feared the worst when Jaba Kankava put Georgia ahead after 17 minutes. Having never previously won a competitive game at Stadion Poljud the omens looked worrying for the hosts, but Mario Mandžukić levelled with 14 minutes remaining and Nikola Kalinić struck the winner moments later.

Dedicating their performance to team-mate Drago Gabrić, who is recovering from a car accident, Croatia made an uncertain start and were stung when Kankava met David Siradze's cross from the right with a fine header. That prompted a spirited response from the home side, Luka Modrić unleashing an effort that Giorgi Loria was just about able to push onto a post.

Eduardo then nodded against the crossbar after the break, before Kalinić forced a double save from Loria and Srna struck the woodwork from a superb free-kick. Croatia were not to be denied, however, and they finally restored parity when substitutes Ivan Klasnić and Tomislav Dujmović combined down the left and Dujmović crossed for Mandžukić to finish. Two minutes later another replacement completed the turnaround, Kalinić making the most of Eduardo's right-wing cross.

"It was wonderful to score the decisive goal," said the match-winner. "It was a difficult game and it was hard to break down the Georgia defence, especially after they scored and put men behind the ball."

"In the first half we couldn't break through, but I was stressing that we needed to be patient," added Bilić, whose side next travel to Malta on 2 September, when Georgia host Latvia. "Patience was crucial as we were constantly attacking and waiting for a goal. We showed our character."