Croatia were left to count the cost of their two defeats to England as they
failed to qualify for the World Cup. Ukraine's six-goal hammering of Andorra ended the faint hopes of Slaven Bilic's team who finished third in Group Six.
Tottenham winger Niko Kranjcar grabbed a late headed winner for Croatia against
Kazakhstan in Astana, after Ognjen Vukojevic's earlier goal had been cancelled
out by Sergey Khizhnichenko's shock equaliser.
But it was the 4-1 drubbing by England in September 2008, and the 5-1 defeat
they suffered against Fabio Capello's men last month in London which hurt
Croatia the most during their campaign.
The only other points which coach Bilic's side dropped were in the two draws
they managed against Ukraine, who of course beat England on Saturday to
effectively seal their place in the European play-offs.
Croatia came into the match knowing they required a stunning result from
Andorra to have any chance of pinching second place behind group winners
Their chances were unrealistic, yet Croatia began well at the Astana Arena, and
they deservedly went in front after 10 minutes when Dynamo Kiev man Vukojevic
found space at a corner and headed past Alexandr Mokin from six yards.
Ivan Klasnic then twice went close to adding to Croatia's lead, firstly forcing
a good stop from Mokin and then slamming a shot over the crossbar.
Kazakhstan, who did the double over Andorra to achieve their own minor triumph
at the foot of the group, began to see more of the ball and they found an
equaliser in the 26th minute.
Tanat Nusserbayev fed a pass to Yevgeniy Averchenko on the right flank and he
found Khizhnichenko who applied the finishing touch to beat Vedran Runje. Klasnic hit the bar before the break and Mokin saved from Ivan Rakitic and Darijo Srna.
Mario Mandzukic then went close with headers in the 47th and 56th minutes for
Mokin was keeping the home side in it, and when substitute Mate Bilic was
foiled twice in five minutes by saves from the goalkeeper it seemed Kazakhstan
might hold on for a draw, an outcome which looked increasingly likely when Bilic
hit the bar and Mokin saved from Rakitic.
However in the second minute of stoppage-time Kranjcar finally beat Mokin,
heading home from 16 yards to at least ensure Croatia finished with a win,
however they will not be in South Africa next summer.