Croatia's grip on second place in
World Cup qualifying Group Six slipped on Saturday when they had
to come from behind to grab a 2-2 draw with Ukraine.
Mladen Petric had given Croatia an early lead only for goals
from Andriy Shevchenko and Olexiy Gai to put Ukraine in charge.
Croatia looked lost before Mario Mandzukic's introduction as
a substitute gave them the boost they needed.
Luka Modric played a one-two with Mandzukic on the edge of
the box and his powerful shot took a deflection on its way in.
Petric and Modric both hit the frame of the goal as Croatia
pressed for a winner.
England top the standings with a maximum 18 points from six
games following their 4-0 win in Kazakhstan earlier in the day.
Croatia remain second on 11 points from six but Belarus,
third on nine points, and Ukraine, fourth on eight, each have a
game in hand and look threatening.
The group winners qualify for the finals while the best
eight runners-up from the nine groups go through to a playoff.
Croatia scored after just two minutes when Srna's superb
20-yard free kick was punched away by Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy
Pyatov only for Petric to bury the ball from inside the box.
Croatia looked content to sit on their early lead for a
while before Ukraine equalised after a superb cross by Ruslan
Rotan was headed home by Shevchenko in the 13th minute.
The home side were rocked again when Gai scored with another
header from Serhiy Nazarenko's free kick in a move that was
almost a carbon copy of Ukraine's first goal.
But Modric popped up with the equaliser in the 68th when his
powerful shot was deflected past Pyatov by Chygrynskiy.
Croatia continued attacking and created numerous chances
towards the end of the match, hitting the post twice, but they
could not find another goal before the final whistle.
"Ukraine had the initiative and were largely in control of
the midfield in the first half, but things improved when Jerko
Leko and Ognjen Vukojevic were brought on at halftime," said
Croatia manager Slaven Bilic.
"Considering the number of opportunities we created in the
second half, we can't be satisfied with the final result, we
deserved a win tonight," he added.
Croatia midfielder Darijo Srna said he did not expect
Ukraine to put on such a good performance.
But he added: "I think we deserved to win on account of all
the chances we created. I would say Ukraine's goalkeeper Pyatov
was the man of the match."