Croatia, Hungary win to pull away in Group E

REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

Croatia and Hungary pulled away at the top of Euro 2020 qualifying Group E after victories on Saturday in what is shaping up to be a fiercely competitive pool.

Both teams have six points from three games after a goal and an assist by Ivan Perisic gave 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia a 2-1 home win over Wales while a Willi Orban brace helped the Hungarians to a 3-1 win in Azerbaijan.

Wales and Slovakia have three points each from two games and Azerbaijan none.

Croatia dominated but were forced to hang on in the closing stages and Wales coach Ryan Giggs was disappointed his side came away empty-handed.

“We showed them far too much respect, we weren’t aggressive enough early on and we made some stupid mistakes and got punished,” he said.

“Now we prepare for Tuesday. Hungary are a hard-working, physical team, but we will need to play a lot better to get anything out of it.”

Perisic blazed two shots over the bar before he set up Croatia’s 17th-minute opener, when Welsh defender James Lawrence fired the winger’s sharp low cross into his own net past stranded goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey.

Perisic made it 2-0 early in the second half after he got on the end of a loose ball in the penalty area and drove it past Hennessey from 10 metres with his weaker right foot.

Gareth Bale twice came close for the Welsh before substitute David Brooks pulled a goal back in the 77th minute, beating Croatia keeper Dominik Livakovic with a deflected shot from 20 metres.

The visitors piled the pressure in the closing stages and midfielder Harry Wilson missed a gilt-edged chance to grab a late equaliser, heading a teasing Bale cross over the bar from five metres.

In Baku, Balazs Dzsudzsak showed his trademark set-piece skills as he floated in a free kick for Orban to fire Hungary ahead with a glancing header and then swung in a corner bundled in by the centre-back from point-blank range.

Azerbaijan halved the deficit when midfielder Mahir Emreli swept in a 68th-minute rebound but Hungary put the game beyond the home side’s reach in the 70th as substitute David Holman drilled a fierce shot into the roof of the net.