SPLIT, Croatia (AP) — Croatia proved it can win without Luka Modric as it beat Slovenia 3-0 on Tuesday in its fight for a World Cup qualifying spot.
Real Madrid midfielder Modric missed all three of Croatia’s games during the international break with a thigh injury, but the 2018 World Cup runner-up has emerged with two wins and a draw.
Croatia is level with Russia on 13 points atop Group H but leads on goal difference.
Marko Livaja gave Croatia the lead in the 33rd minute with a header on the rebound after Marko Pasalic headed against the post. Pasalic finally got his goal in the 66th from point-blank range off a low cross from Ivan Perisic. Substitute Nikola Vlasic added a third goal in stoppage time.
Croatia gained revenge for its 1-0 loss to Slovenia in March.
Russia beat Malta 2-0 on what was a frustrating evening for the Russians and their new coach Valery Karpin. Fyodor Smolov put Russia in front after a defensive mixup from Malta in the 10th minute. Russia struggled to break down Malta’s packed defense and didn’t score its second until Zelimkhan Bakaev’s penalty in the 84th.
Slovakia beat Cyprus 2-0 to overtake Slovenia for third place in the group.
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