Croatia ‘95% qualified’, says Greece defender before second leg

Sokratis Papastathopoulos (19) fails to prevent Nikola Kalinic scoring for Croatia

Croatia’s first-leg win means they are close to reaching back-to-back World Cups

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Greece’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos says Croatia are “95% qualified” for the 2018 World Cup after their 4-1 victory in the first leg of the play-off tie between the two sides.

Greece still have Sunday’s second leg on home soil to try to secure a third straight finals appearance.

They are not confident after the defeat in Zagreb, branded an “unprecedented disgrace” by the Greek press.

“It was a difficult night,” defender Papastathopoulos told

“We did not really appreciate the importance of the game and the goals we conceded were ridiculous. Croatia have 95% qualified.”

On Thursday, goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis conceded an early penalty which Luka Modric converted and Nikola Kalinic tapped in a second before Papastathopoulos headed an away goal.

However, there would be no comeback as Ivan Perisic and Andrej Kramaric put the Croatia in total control of the tie in the second half.

Greece boss Michael Skibbe has guaranteed more effort from his players in front of home fans at the Karaiskakis Stadium.

“It will be very complicated for us to come back after this game. We are very unhappy,” said the German. “On Sunday you will see a better team.”

Mario Mandzukic<!–

Mario Mandzukic has scored four goals for Juventus this season

Croatia have been given a further lift before the second leg by the return to fitness of Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic.

“Mandzukic wanted to play [on Thursday], but that was too big a risk as he would probably have had to be substituted very soon. He’ll be ready for the return leg,” said Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic.

“We are aware of the quality of our players and we managed to mix our quality with strength. However, we need to realise that nothing is over yet.

“There will be no euphoria before the return leg, even though Croatia did a wonderful job. We’ll start as if the aggregate scoreline were 0-0.”

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