Croatia cruise past Latvia in Riga

Latvia 0-3 Croatia Mladen Petrić, Ivica Olić and Darijo Srna were on target in a straightforward victory for Slaven Bilić's team in Riga.

Aleksandrs Cauņa (left) vies with Croatia's Ivan Strinić
Aleksandrs Cauņa (left) vies with Croatia's Ivan Strinić ©Getty Images

Croatia kicked off UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group F with a comfortable victory against Latvia in Riga.

Mladen Petrić set the visitors on their way two minutes before the break, a lead which was doubled in the early stages of the second half by the head of Ivica Olić. Captain Darijo Srna confirmed Latvia's first defeat in five competitive home games with a third late on.

Latvia coach Aleksandrs Starkovs surprised many inside the Skonto Stadions by leaving Vitālijs Astafjevs, Europe's most capped player, on the bench. The hosts could have done with his experience early on as Croatia quickly took the initiative, Niko Kranjčar and Josip Šimunić forcing Andris Vaņins into sharp saves.

Despite Latvia fashioning little aside from Aleksandrs Cauņa's effort on the quarter-hour mark, Starkov's team were defending capably and seemed set to end the half on level terms until Petrič struck from close range. Olič, having been denied by Vaņins before the opener, put the outcome beyond doubt six minutes after the restart with a perfectly-placed header.

Deflated, Latvia's response was limited to efforts from Maksims Rafaļskis and Māris Verpakovskis which failed to trouble goalkeeper Vedran Runje. Nikica Jelavić squandered a chance to increase the lead with just Vaņins to beat, leaving it to Srna to put the gloss on a comfortable night eight minutes from time.

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