Northern Ireland well beaten as Croatia dispatch a listless Northern Ireland side to claim a 3-0 victory
Goals from Mario Mandzuckic, Duje Cop and a stunner from Andrej Kramaric put Northern Ireland to the sword. It was a first home defeat since a 4-2 reverse to Portugal back in 2013.
Mandzukic took advantage of some bizarre Northern Ireland defending to smuggle the ball over the line within the first ten minutes. While it was 2-0 before before the halftime whistle with the unmarked Cop poking home from some poor set piece defending. There was then applause from all quarters as Kramaric curled in from 25 yards.
Friendlies are a difficult affair to assess, spectators will never see the same kind of intensity delivered during a competitive fixture. In keeping with the vagueness of an international friendly, Michael O'Neill's side can take both positives and negatives from the game.
After the high of Friday night's win over Azerbaijan, Croatia always had the capacity to bring Northern Ireland back down to earth. Even without their sublime midfield duo of Modric and Rakitic, Croatia still had too much Quality for the home side.
Full time.— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) November 15, 2016
Northern Ireland 0-3 Croatia. Tough to assess that one. Convincing defeat, but still a friendly after all. #GAWA
Sides have struggled to find much joy at Windsor Park in recent years, winning 8 and drawing 2, while only conceding three goals. By the end of the night the number of goals conceded had doubled.
It's unlikely that Michael O'Neill will lose too much sleep over the result. In his post match press conference, he made it clear that the important work had been done against Azerbaijan on Friday night. The game also gave him a valuable opportunity to try out some fringe players
O'Neill highlighted Liam Boyce and substitute Paul Paton for particular praise. O'Neill made the point that, not that long ago, Josh Magennis was considered a fringe player, with the Charlton man now well and truly the first choice for Northern Ireland's left flank.
16' Magennis having another good game on the right hand side. Then launches in a long throw, which comes to nothing. Still 0-1 #GAWA— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) November 15, 2016
Matthew Lund also put in a decent shift in his first international appearance, Lund was one of six changes to the side that so casually brushed aside Azerbaijan, while Ross County's Boyce was also making his first start.
Croatia were in control for the majority of the match, with only Northern Ireland only fashioning a series of half-chances to threaten them. The list of absentees in the Coratian side went further than just Modric and Rakitic; Kovacic, Lovren and Corluka were all notable exclusions.
However, Croatia were dominant throughout, man of the match Kramaric playing a smart pass into Cop, who's shot was initially parried, but some strange defending from Northern Ireland allowed Mandzukic to squirm the ball over the line.
Poor marking from a corner led to Cop doubling the lead, sweeping home after a Matej Mitriovic flick-on. Croatia put the result beyond doubt after Kramaric fired into the toop corner from 25 yards out. Such a sublime effort received warm applause from the home fans, who had little else to cheer about on the night.
Croatia were even able to squander an indirect free-kick after Alun Mannus handled a back-pass. But Marcelo Brozovic ballooned the resulting effort well over the bar.
Michael O'neill has plenty of time to digest the ins and outs of last night's game. O'Neill will celebrate his five-year anniversary at the helm of the Northern ireland squad, and he has until the 26th March to prepare for the visit of Norway, and a return to the World Cup Qualifying campaign.
Northern Ireland currently sit second in the qualifying group, winning their past two games, and having only conceded to World Champions Germany. That will be a much more warming statistic for Michael O'Neill to ponder over some mulled wine, than a 3-0 defeat to Croatia.