Bale magic falters as Eduardo helps boot Welsh hopes in the Balkans

 

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Following the euphoria of victory over Scotland, Chris Coleman, the Wales manager, saw his men quickly crash back down to earth after this comprehensive defeat in Osijek.

A month on from the 6-1 humiliation to Croatia's Balkan neighbours Serbia, a similar result could have been seen as the Dragons were outpassed, outplayed and outclassed once again by their Group A rivals.

Bayern Munich's Mario Mandzukic capitalised in the 27th minute on a double error by Ashley Williams and Lewis Price to put Igor Stimac's men ahead. And any Welsh hopes of being bailed out by Gareth Bale, just four days after the Spurs winger broke the Scots, were ended by Eduardo's close-range finish on 58 minutes.

Coleman's team are now seven points adrift in Group A and their qualification hopes are fading after just four matches.

Prior to kick-off Coleman had expressed concern at the state of the pitch, claiming parts were unplayable following a day of torrential rain. Despite the uneven surface, though, Croatia dominated the early proceedings with Luka Modric pulling the strings in midfield.

The Wales goalkeeper Price tipped a 25-yard free-kick from the home captain Darijo Srna around the post before the hosts had a penalty shout waved away in the 14th minute. Modric burst through before tumbling under a challenge by Darcy Blake, but the Romanian referee Alexandru Dan Tudor rejected the Real Madrid midfielder's claim.

Wales finally mustered an attack of their own in the 20th minute. Bale cut inside Ivan Perisic on the right flank, but shot wide of Stipe Peltikosa's right-hand post.

For all Croatia's possession and chances, though, it was two poor defensive errors which led to the opener. In the heavy conditions, the Wales captain Williams played an under-hit back-pass and Price's clearance was charged down by Mandzukic who slotted home into an empty net. Price again came to Wales's rescue when he produced a reflex save to deny Eduardo after sharp right-wing cross from Srna.

It was one-way traffic after the interval as Price parried Eduardo's left-footed drive then heroically saved with his legs to stop Mandzukic again. But there was only so much Wales' last line of defence could do when Croatia doubled the lead.

Srna delivered a corner from the right, Price saved Perisic's header, but Eduardo was on hand effortlessly tucked home the rebound. Andy King had Wales' first shot on target with 23 minutes remaining, heading Joe Allen's centre straight at Pletikosa.

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