Zagreb, Sep 6 (IANS) In a sad atmosphere of the empty stands of Maksimir Stadium here, Croatian footballers opened their qualifying campaign for the World Cup 2018 in Russia drawing 1-1 against Turkey.
Just three months after their opening match at Euro 2016 in France, the Croatian and Turkish national teams clashed again at the beginning of World Cup 2018 qualifiers.
Croatian fans fondly remembered that June day in Paris when Luka Modric's long range strike was enough to beat Turkey at full stadium Parc des Princes, reports Xinhua.
Three months later in Zagreb at an empty Maksimir stadium, because of the two match suspension imposed on Croatian Football Federation, the Turkish team led by 19-year old new Borussia Dortmund star Emre Mor presented a much tougher challenge for the Croatian team that began its new era under the captaincy of Luka Modric, who has accepted that role from Darijo Srna when he quit his international career after EURO 2016.
It was Emre Mor who came close to scoring in the second and 21st minute. On the other end Mario Mandzukic hit the post from close range in the 10th minute and Marko Pjaca followed putting the ball just over the bar.
In the 22nd minute it was Pjaca's turn to hit the bar with a close range header. Nine minutes later Ivan Perisic lob from the edge of the box landed on the bar.
Finally, Croatia scored in the 44th minute when Ivan Rakitic converted the penalty after Luka Modric was brought down just inside the box by Turkish defenders.
In the stoppage time of the first half Turkey got the equalizer. Turkish skipper Hakan Calhanoglu delivered a free kick from over 25 meters. The ball deflected of Ivan Perisic and left goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic helplessly watching it crossing the line and ending up in the net.
In the second half the Croatian team came close to scoring on different occasions but Mandzukic's try from close range in the 58th minute went over the bar and Turkish goalkeeper Volkan Babacan denied Marko Pjaca on a great header in the 76th minute.
Babacan saved Turkey from defeat again in the second minute of stoppage time when he stopped a close-range shot from Milan Badelj.
The path to the final tournament in Russia is long and there are a lot points on the table but home draw against Turkey will not help Ante Cacic's side to conquer the group and earn direct qualification. Fortunately for the Croatian team, the other two matches in Group I, Finland vs. Kosovo and Ukraine vs. Iceland, ended with the same result.
On the second matchday in Group I, FIFA newcomers Kosovo will host Croatia in Albanian city of Skhoder on October 6 and three days later Croatian footballers will travel to Finland.