Niko Kranjčar said "I'm playing the best football of my life" after his two first-half strikes against Malta paved the way for a 3-0 win in rain-soaked Zagreb that sent Croatia top of UEFA EURO 2012 Group F.
The 26-year-old Tottenham Hotspur FC midfielder has scored twice in successive Group F matches, with his double against Israel in Ramat Gan on 9 October having secured a precious 2-1 away win. Croatia are now two points clear of second-placed Greece in their section after four rounds.
"I think I should be scoring lots of goals, even from midfield," said Kranjčar, who has featured in only three of his club's Premier League games this season. "I am happy I got the chance to play again and as always look forward to the next game for Croatia."
His Tottenham team-mate Luka Modrić was in no doubt who the man of the match was. "I am really happy about Niko's two goals," the 25-year-old playmaker said. "I hope my coach at Tottenham was watching."
Croatia captain Darijo Srna heaped further praise on Kranjčar, saying: "He's in top shape." He added of his side's qualifying campaign so far: "The goalless draw at home to Greece was a blemish but all that counts is that we are top of the group."
Steady rain during the day in Zagreb produced a greasy surface at the Stadion Maksimir and both teams took time to adjust. Croatia defender Vedran Ćorluka admitted the conditions made it more difficult for Slaven Bilić's men to break down a well-drilled defence. "The pitch was very difficult to play on, but we still managed to do well," he said. "We deserve to be top of the group, but we must continue to improve. We could have created more chances."
Malta, who had lost 2-1 to Croatia the last time the sides met in Zagreb in 1999, remain point-less at the foot of Group F following four consecutive defeats. Attacking midfielder André Schembri said the visitors had opportunities to score but was not too disappointed with the result. "We lost but did not embarrass ourselves," the Ferencvárosi TC man said. "Croatia have a great team and remain favourites in the group. They played very well."
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