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Modrić comes off the bench and scores a penalty kick against Malta

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Modrić and Perisić were needed for Croatia to beat Malta.

Croatia v Malta - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier Photo by Slavko Midzor/Pixsell/MB Media/Getty Images

Croatia moves forward in its path to the 2022 World Cup with a victory against Malta that required more work than expected.

Manager Zlatko Dalić rested several key players this time, including Luka Modrić, Marcelo Brozović, Ivan Perisić, and Dejan Lovren. Modrić had already played the full 180 minutes against Slovenia and Cyprus and was due for some rotation.

The first half of the game saw very few chances (5 shots from Croatia, 2 from Malta) as Croatia struggled to break down the Malta defense. Malta even had a penalty denied despite a clear handball from Juranović.

Croatia could only control and ultimately win the game until the big names came in during the second half, as Ivan Perisić, Luka Modrić, and Wolfsburg’s Josip Brekalo were all subbed in at the 54th minute of the game. Modrić replaced Milan Badelj and played in the double pivot of Croatia’s 4-2-3-1 shape.

Croatia outshot Malta 12-0 during the second half. Perisić scored the first goal in the 62nd minute, darting behind defenders to meet a great cross from Barisić. In the 75th minute, a handball from a Malta defender led to a penalty that was coolly converted by Modrić. Croatia sat back and not much happened after these two goals, but towards the end of the game, the Balkan side got one more goal as Perisić assisted Brekalo. Croatia now leads the Group H table with 6 points, and they will face Russia in September after the summer EURO tournament.

Despite the scoreline, this was not a great performance by a Croatia who shouldn’t need Modrić and Perisić to beat a weaker opponent like Malta. Their next game will occur on June 1st, as Croatia will face Armenia in a friendly prior to the EURO’s group stages.