The UEFA World Cup qualifying playoffs kicked off on Thursday and the opening legs of the opening two series went about exactly as expected.

By Avi Creditor
November 09, 2017

The UEFA World Cup qualifying playoffs kicked off on Thursday and the opening legs of the opening two series went about exactly as expected.

Croatia leads Greece 4-1 after 90 minutes in Zagreb, while Northern Ireland frustrated Switzerland in Belfast but ultimately conceded on a controversial penalty in a 1-0 result for the Swiss. The away goal for Greece leaves the door slightly open, but it'll be a tall task when the two sides meet again on Sunday in the second leg. 

Switzerland's away goal, however, is a series-changer, and it came off a controversial moment. Corry Evans was whistled as the ball appeared to hit off his arm as he turned, but that was deemed enough for a penalty, one that Ricardo Rodriguez coolly buried.

The goal came 58 minutes into a match Switzerland controlled, with Northern Ireland content to defend and absorb pressure. Earlier in the second half, Switzerland nearly went ahead on its own merit, with Xherdan Shaqiri curling a blast inches over the bar moments into the second half. The one-goal edge keeps the playoff in question, but Northern Ireland will need to take a few more risks and show way more in the attack than it did in the first leg to have a chance a its first World Cup appearance since 1986.

It was a different story in Croatia, where Luka Modric & Co. put the visiting Greeks to the sword. The saving grace is Sokratis Papastathopoulos's 30th-minute header, that cut Croatia's lead at the time to 2-1. Ivan Perisic's header restored the two-goal edge three minutes later, though, and Andrej Kramaric made the lead the three four minutes into the second half, following goals from Modric (PK) and Nikola Kalinic. 

Greece, known for its staunch defending and not-so-much its attack, faces the daunting task of outscoring Croatia by three at home all while keeping its high-powered opposition off the board. Should Croatia score one in Greece on Sunday, the hosts would need four just to force extra time and five to go through–an unlikely proposition.

Like Northern Ireland, Greece mustered 17 goals in its 10 qualifiers during the group stage. It'll take something atypical to go through after its rather careless first-leg showing on the road.

You May Like