Croatia closes in on finals with victory in Turkey

Croatia closes in on finals with victory in Turkey

Croatia and Ireland took a major step towards the Euro 2012 finals with impressive away victories in their play-off matches on Friday, while the Czech Republic secured a 2-0 win at home against Montenegro, dpa reported.

In the other match on the night, Portugal played to a goalless draw in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Croatia won 3-0 in Turkey and Ireland thrashed a nine-man Estonia 4-0.

Keith Andrews gave the Irish the lead in the 13th minute in Tallinn against Estonia, who then had Andrei Stepanov sent off for a second bookable offence after bringing down Robbie Keane.

Jon Walters added a second in the 67th minute, before Keane put the game beyond the home side just four minutes later. Worse was to follow for Estonia in the 77th minute when captain Raio Piiroja was sent off for handling the ball. He had earlier been booked.

Keane converted a penalty two minutes from the end to give the Irish a convincing victory and all but guarantee their place at next year's finals in Ukraine and Poland. Croatia had a dream start in Istanbul as Ivica Olic opened the scoring after just two minutes, pushing a cross from Vedran Corluka over the line from close range.

Worse was to follow for Guus Hiddink's side as Mario Mandzukic doubled his side's lead in the 32nd minute after Luka Modric's shot was blocked, but Darijo Srna had another chance at a cross which Mandzukic headed past goalkeeper Volkan Demirel.

Srna set up Croatia's third just seven minutes after the restart when his free-kick was met by Tottenham defender Corluka, who escaped his marker and headed in to give his side the advantage ahead of Tuesday's return leg.

The Czech Republic, who have been ever-present since 1996 and won the tournament as Czechoslovakia in 1976, also moved closer to the finals with a 2-0 win at home against Montenegro.

Vaclav Pilar gave the Czechs the lead in the 63rd minute, but it was only in injury time that defender Tomas Sivok, who plays his club football for Turkish club Besiktas, found a second.

Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech, who broke his nose playing for Chelsea in a Premier League match last weekend, played with a specially designed mask.

In Zinica Bosnia and Herzegovina held Portugal to a goalless draw.

The visitors had the first chance of the game in the ninth minute as goalkeeper Asmir Begovic did well to save Raul Meireles' half-volley.

Although the 2004 Euro hosts dominated the game they had to wait until the 58th minute before their had a second opportunity to open the score as Helder Postigo shot just wide.

Somewhat against the run of play Germany-based Vedad Ibisevic could have given the Bosnians the lead with 16 minutes to go as he pulled Zvjezdan Misimovic's cross wide.

The return legs are on Tuesday.

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