Northern Ireland 0-3 Croatia: Michael O'Neill's side outclassed by clinical Croatia

Northern Ireland 0-3 Croatia: Michael O'Neill's side outclassed by clinical Croatia

Northern Ireland finished the international break with a 3-0 friendly defeat to Croatia.

Danial Kennedy

It was a scintillating first meeting between Northern Ireland and Croatia, with goals from Mario Mandzukic, Duje Cop and Andrej Kramaric giving the Croatians a comfortable 3-0 victory. 

It was a strong start from the home side with Paddy McNair's early opportunity, but Ante Čačić's dominated after Mandzukic's ninth-minute opener before Cop added a second ten minutes from the break. 

It was an entertaining beginning to the second period with good opportunities for Marcelo Brozovic and Jonny Evans, but Kramaric's 68th minute effort settled the result. Cop and Kyle Lafferty came close as the contest drew to a close, but the result had been settled long before. 

In the driving seat 

Fans inside Windsor Park were left in anticipation for the first meeting between these two sides, with kick-off delayed due to heavy traffic, and when it did get underway it was Michael O'Neill's who started brightest. 

They tested the waters six minutes in, when a long throw was only cleared as far as McNair, and the Sunderland midfielder's sweet effort was well blocked by the Croatians. 

Just three minutes later they managed to find themselves behind, it was simple for Čačić's side as Cop did well to break down the left flank. The striker put a dangerous low cross into the area and captain of the night Mandzukic toe poked it home at the second attempt. 

Croatia score through Cop | Photo: getty images / Charles McQuillan

Double up 

From that point O'Neill's side dominated the possession but the away side started to assert themselves in the contest and looked to have finished the contest in the 35th minute, with the second goal of the night. 

 Kramaric swung the corner to the near post which found Matej Mitrovic. The defender was clever with his flick, as it fell perfectly for Cop to tap home from close-range. 

Coming out of the traps 

Both sides looked fired up as the game restarted for the second period, and both had decent opportunities to add to the scoreline. 

It was poor Evans' behalf in the 54th minute, with his backpass resulting in a indirect free-kick six yards out. It looked enough to score for Brozovic who had just came off the bench, but he somehow managed to send it over the bar. 

The West Brom defender looked to redeem himself just minute later, he was left unmarked from Oliver Norwood's corner, but he put it wide of the mark. 

Kramaric celebrates scoring | Photo: Getty images / Paul Faith

All over 

Croatia had dominated throughout despite some decent opportunities from the hosts, but the game was over 22 minutes from time, as Croatia added their third and final goal. 

It was brilliant play, as in the blink of a eye, Lee Hodson was dispossessed and the ball was with Kramaric, and the Leicester City man did brilliantly to beat Alan Mannus from 25 yards. 

Cop could have added his second in the 80th minute, Mark Clattenburg awarded the Croatians a free-kick in a dangerous position, but the effort was just inches wide of the mark. 

The final chance of the clash feel to the Northern Irish, they did well to work the ball to Lafferty at the far post. The angle was always against him, and his effort was straight at the legs of Ivan Vargic.