Croatia Ends Ukraine’s Shot At Embarrassing Russia At 2018 World Cup

Croatia’s magnificent midfield duo of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic helped them reach the playoff round of UEFA World Cup qualifying.

For anyone interested in geopolitics, Ukraine competing at the 2018 World Cup in Russia was an extremely enticing possibility. Croatia ended that possibility with a 2-0 win over Ukraine on the final day of UEFA Group I World Cup qualifying on Monday in Kiev. Croatia will play in a UEFA playoff in November for a chance to go to a fifth World Cup in six qualifying campaigns. 

Ukraine hadn’t been to the World Cup since 2006 but would have qualified for the playoffs with a win at home over Croatia. Instead, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic made two incredible assists to lift Croatia into second place behind Iceland, which won the group thanks to a 2-0 win over Kosovo. 

Croatia has only been eligible for the World Cup since 1998, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, when they finished third. But a win in the November playoffs would see them qualify yet again and with one of the most talented midfields of any nation. 

A draw probably would have been enough to put Croatia into the playoffs (they might have been the odd-man out with eight of nine group runners-up reaching the playoffs), but in the 62nd minute Modric sent in a cross with laser-guided accuracy onto the head of Andrej Kramaric for a 1-0 lead.

Then it was Rakitic’s turn to play in a delicious cross. In the 70th minute, moments after Iceland took a 2-0 lead over Kosovo, Rakitic first-timed a high, looping long ball and volleyed it across the face of the goal, where Kramaric again was on the end of it to double Croatia’s lead.

Croatia still has work to do. They’ll likely be seeded in the playoffs, meaning they won’t have to face Spain and either Portugal or Switzerland, but anything can happen in do-or-die playoffs. Fortunately, they have two La Liga stars in Modric (Real Madrid) and Rakitic (Barcelona) leading the way, not to mention guys like Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic and Dejan Lovren. 

Ukraine would love to be in that scenario after Monday’s loss, which means coach and legendary former player Andriy Shevchenko, who scored two goals in Ukraine’s last trip to the World Cup, won’t be able to manage his country in a World Cup. 

Ukraine competing in the Russia World Cup would have been so intriguing from an outsider’s perspective after everything Russia has done to mess with Ukraine’s sovereignty. But alas, Andriy Yarmolenko and company will have to watch from home. But hey, maybe Russia will annex Ukraine by next summer and Yarmolenko will suit up in Russian red for the World Cup.  

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