World Cup qualifiers round-up: Scotland shock in Zagreb and Ukraine thrash Montenegro
Scotland claimed their first victory in Word Cup 2014 qualification against Croatia in Zagreb. Ranked fourth in the world, Croatia were left stunned when Robert Snodgrass’ goal was enough to claim a famous 1-0 victory. Elsewhere, Ukraine overcame Montenegro 4-0, giving England a huge boost in their attempts to catch top spot Montenegro.
In the build-up to the game, Croatia had mocked Scotland by claiming they were small in terms of threat and quality. It would be the Scots who would laugh loudest – becoming the first side to beat Croatia on home turf since England back in 2008.
With just two points from a possible 18 in qualifying, Gordon Strachan’s men certainly restored some pride in Scottish football with one of their greatest performances in years. The likes of James McArthur, Alan Hutton, Russell Martin and goal scorer Robert Snodgrass were a class above on the night.
Midway through the first half a surging run from Shaun Maloney resulted in the ball finding its way through to Snodgrass via a deflection. The former Leeds United star prodded the ball beyond Stipe Pletikosa in the Croat goal.
Scotland’s belief was commendable against a team that had showed arrogance and disrespect in days leading up to the game. Whilst Croatia enjoyed much of the ball, Allan McGregor was never really tested and Scotland silenced their critics with an infamous victory.
Gordon Strachan’s men cannot qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil but it is certainly a work in progress for former Middlesbrough boss Strachan. If Scotland can continue to build upon this victory, they can possibly become a more formidable side.
Montenegro missed out on opening a five-point lead on England in Group H. The South-eastern based European side had two men sent off in a game that ended 9 v 10 – with Ukraine eventually coasting to victory.
Ukraine took the lead in the 52nd minute through Denys Garmash, despite being down to 10 men for the entire second half. Yevgeni Konoplianka grabbed the second and further goals from Artem Fedetskyi and Roman Bezus completed the one-sided rout.
England now sit two points behind Montenegro in second, with Roy Hodgson’s men now having a game in hand on their closest Group H rivals. Montenegro will visit Wembley on October 11 and no longer look the favourites to automatically qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
Despite the advantage England now have on Montenegro, Ukraine sit just one point behind the Three Lions and still have San Marino to play twice.
Group H is wide open and England must improve their performances if they are to guarantee a place at Rio next year.
Thomas Bradley, football correspondent