Croatia were left to count the cost of their two defeats to England as they failed to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Ukraine's six-goal hammering of Andorra this evening ended the faint hopes of Slaven Bilic's team who finished third in Group 6.
Tottenham Hotspur winger Niko Kranjcar grabbed a late headed winner for Croatia against Kazakhstan in Astana, after Ognjen Vukojevic's earlier goal had been cancelled out by Sergey Khizhnichenko's shock equaliser. But it was the 4-1 defeat by England in September 2008 and the 5-1 defeat they suffered against Fabio Capello's men last month in London which hurt Croatia the most during their campaign.
The only other points which coach Bilic's side dropped were in the two draws they managed against Ukraine, who beat England on Saturday to effectively seal their place in the European play-offs.
Croatia came into today's match knowing they required a stunning result from Andorra to have any chance of pinching second place behind group winners England. Their chances were slim, yet Croatia began well at the Astana Arena, and they deservedly went in front after ten minutes when Dynamo Kiev man Vukojevic found space at a corner and headed past Alexandr Mokin from six yards.
Ivan Klasnic then twice went close to adding to Croatia's lead, firstly forcing a good stop from Mokin and then slamming a shot over the crossbar. Kazakhstan, who did the double over Andorra to achieve their own minor triumph at the foot of the group, began to see more of the ball and they found an equaliser in the 26th minute.
Tanat Nusserbayev fed a pass to Yevgeniy Averchenko on the right flank and he found Khizhnichenko who applied the finishing touch to beat Vedran Runje. Klasnic hit the bar before the break and Mokin saved from Ivan Rakitic and Darijo Srna.
Mario Mandzukic then went close with headers in the 47th and 56th minutes for Croatia. Mokin was keeping the home side in it, and when substitute Mate Bilic was foiled twice in five minutes by saves from the goalkeeper it seemed Kazakhstan might hold on for a draw, an outcome which looked increasingly likely when Bilic hit the bar and Mokin saved from Rakitic.
In the second minute of stoppage-time Kranjcar finally beat Mokin, heading home from 16 yards to at least ensure Croatia finished with a win, however they will not be in South Africa next summer.