Flickering Welsh World Cup dream extinguished by classy Croatians
Croatia 2, Wales 0.
WALES fell to their third defeat in four World Cup qualifiers after being overrun by a dominant Croatia side in Osijek last night.
The Dragons did well to keep their hosts at bay until the 27th minute, when goalkeeper Lewis Price tried to clear a weak Ashley Williams back pass but the ball was charged down by Mario Mandzukic, who tapped home.
Former Arsenal forward Eduardo then made it 2-0 after the break with a close-range finish.
Wales boss Chris Coleman made one change to his starting XI for the World Cup qualifying Group A clash.
The only adjustment from the 2-1 victory over Scotland on Friday saw Andy King replace the suspended Aaron Ramsey in midfield.
The hosts' line-up included Real Madrid's former Tottenham midfielder Luka Modric and one-time Arsenal forward Eduardo, while Everton striker Nikica Jelavic was among their substitutes.
Croatia dominated possession early on and Ivan Rakitic saw a shot blocked before Eduardo sent an effort from the edge of the box into the arms of Lewis Price, who then got down to push away a Darijo Srna free-kick.
Wales made their first real foray forward in the 12th minute when Gareth Bale earned a throw-in he could only deliver straight to goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa.
Croatia were soon back on the attack, with Modric bursting into the box and tumbling under a challenge from Darcy Blake.
The home supporters cried out for a penalty but referee Alexandru Dan Tudor waved play on.
Price was being kept busy, saving further shots from Rakitic and Milan Badelj, although in between Bale fashioned the visitors' most meaningful effort yet with a strike that fizzed wide.
The Tottenham winger then won a free-kick in a dangerous position, but when he swung it into the area Pletikosa came to punch the ball out.
Wales had managed to absorb a considerable amount of pressure from their opponents, but they shot themselves in the foot just before the half-hour mark when Price struck Ashley Williams's back pass, which appeared to have been slowed by the poor playing surface, against Mario Mandzukic, who calmly guided it into the net.
Eduardo then completely miscued an attempted header, while at the other end another Bale free-kick amounted to nothing.
Croatia kept pressing, with Wales surviving a scramble in the box when Price denied Eduardo.
There was no let-up after the break for the Dragons, with Williams managing to deflect the ball over when Modric and Eduardo combined two minutes into the second half.
Williams did then nod wide from a free-kick, but normal service swiftly resumed, with Ivan Perisic heading off target and Price just managing to keep out Eduardo and Mandzukic.
Eduardo was looking particularly threatening and he was rewarded with a goal in the 58th minute, on hand to tap in after Price had parried a header from a corner.
Eduardo then had another shot saved, before King wasted a chance to pull a goal back for Wales, seeing Pletikosa save his header.
Another scramble ensued in the Wales box that somehow did not result in a third Croatia goal before Price saved a Mandzukic header and Modric drove wide.
Bale beat several men towards the end and drilled in a low effort that Pletikosa could not hold, but substitute Sam Vokes blasted the rebound off target.