Croatia capitalise as Scots lose grip

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The Independent Online

Alex Smith, the Scotland Under-21 coach, had no complaints yesterday after his side went down 3-1 to their Croatian counterparts in Koprivnica in this European Under-21 Championship qualifying match. It had started brightly for the Scots, who took the first-half lead through Alex Notman's penalty after the Manchester United player had been fouled by the goalkeeper Nikola Maric.

Alex Smith, the Scotland Under-21 coach, had no complaints yesterday after his side went down 3-1 to their Croatian counterparts in Koprivnica in this European Under-21 Championship qualifying match. It had started brightly for the Scots, who took the first-half lead through Alex Notman's penalty after the Manchester United player had been fouled by the goalkeeper Nikola Maric.

However, that lead lasted just a few minutes and Smith admitted that the advantage had been lost and in the second half Croatia swept their opponents aside to record two further goals. He said: "It was a very hard game. We had obviously expected a difficult game but in the first half I felt, we played very well and I expected us to score more than one goal at that stage. Unfortunately for us when we did score the first goal we didn't hold that lead long enough."

Had two early chances in the first half that fell to Kenny Miller and Stephen Caldwell gone in, then Notman's eventual opener might have been mere confirmation of three points. However, it was Croatia who recovered to take those points in Group Six courtesy of two goals from Mikael Mikic either side of Ivica Olic's strike.

Northern Ireland Under-21 bounced back from their dismal defeat against Denmark in fine style as they defeated Iceland 5-2 in Hafnarfjordur. The Irish were transformed from the side which lost 3-0 on Friday as they won this Group Three qualifying match with some ease. Maurice Harkin bagged a brace, while the other goals came from Gary Hamilton, Sean Friars and Grant McCann. Pall Gunnarsson scored a late consolation goal for Iceland, to which Johannes Gudjonsson added a penalty after Wayne Carlisle was sent off in stoppage time for a handball.

In Opoczno, Wales Under-21 were 60 seconds from a brave draw against Poland in their Group Five qualifier. Having led through a fine James Thomas goal in the first half, they conceded a 66th-minute equaliser, and then, in the closing seconds, the goalkeeper Lee Kendall was just not big enough to palm over a chip from Grzegorz Rasiak.

Wales had lost Thomas with a hamstring injury and the skipper Ryan Green with a leg problem and were forced into a reshuffle. At times they played the better football, but Poland mounted an increasingly physical comeback and in the end Wales were overpowered by might. They have now lost all three of their qualifying games.

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