LARNACA : Croatia stayed on course to qualify automatically for the 2022 World Cup after goals from Ivan Perisic, Josko Gvardiol and Marko Livaja helped the 2018 runners-up to a 3-0 win at Cyprus in their Group H qualifier on Friday.
The result kept Croatia top on 16 points from seven games, ahead of Russia on goal difference after the Russians ground out a 1-0 home win over Slovakia. Third-placed Slovenia are six points behind the front-runners after they beat Malta 4-0 away.
Andrej Kramaric had a goal scrapped for offside after a lengthy VAR check and Luka Modric missed a penalty but the Croatians cruised to victory despite some poor finishing in the first half.
Perisic fired the visitors ahead on the stroke of halftime with a fine finish after Modric, who returned to the side after missing the previous three qualifiers, released the winger with a defence-splitting pass.
Neophytos Michael saved Modric's penalty in the 54th minute after Kramaric was brought down in the area before Nikola Vlasic fired into the side netting on the hour.
The keeper, who pulled off several fine saves in the first half, then denied Modric and substitute Josip Brekalo but was powerless when centre back Gvardiol made it 2-0 with his first international goal.
Gvardiol was left unmarked at the far post to steer the ball home in the 80th minute after Modric racked up another assist as he swung in a corner deflected into Gvardiol's stride by a Cyprus defender.
Livaja added the icing on the cake in stoppage time as he slid in to steer a Brekalo cross past Michael. The Croatians next play Slovakia at home while Cyprus host Malta and Russia visit Slovenia on Monday.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)