Balaban strike puts Croatia ahead of Scotland

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The Independent Online

Croatia knocked Scotland out of second place in World Cup qualifying Group Six with a 1-0 victory over Latvia in Riga last night. Bosko Balaban, who scored a hat-trick against Latvia in the first meeting between the two countries, hit the decisive goal six minutes before half-time with his fifth strike of the qualifying campaign. The win puts Croatia above Scotland on goal difference.

Balaban scored from a cross by Milan Rapaic, who engineered a swift counter-attack after Latvia had squandered their best chance of the game when Juris Laizans was robbed of the ball as he tried to shoot. Latvia played the last 17 minutes with only 10 men after Fulham's Andrejs Solcers was sent off.

Armenia finished their match against the Group Five leaders, Poland, with only eight men, but still managed a 1-1 draw. An Armenian foul three minutes from the end sparked a brawl after which Feliks Khojoyan and Aik Gevorgyan were sent off, along with Poland's Jacek Bak. The Belgian referee, Eric Romain, had sent off Armenia's Albert Sarkisyan in the 58th minute for a second bookable offence.

When Radoslaw Kaluzni put Poland ahead only four minutes into the game it looked as if the visitors would cruise to an easy victory that would all but seal their qualification from Wales's group, but Artur Petrosyan equalised for the home side seven minutes later.

Romania strengthened their occupation of second place in Group Eight behind Italy after a 2-1 win over rock-bottom Lithuania. The former Coventry City striker Viorel Moldovan and Valencia's Adrian Ilie were the goalscorers for Romania. Lithuania's substitute striker Arturas Fomenko pulled a goal back late on, but Romania held on for the win.

Azerbaijan claimed only their second victory of the campaign after a shock 2-0 win over Group Four challengers Slovakia.

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