FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifiers: Italy, Ireland struggle for finals berth; Croatia and Switzerland qualify

Croatia and Switzerland qualified for the 2018 World Cup finals with 0-0 draws with Northern Ireland and Greece respectively.

With a considerable advantage from Thursday's 4-1 victory in Zagreb, Croatia easily held off their Greek hosts, who pressed for an upset. Croatia came closest to scoring in the 42nd minute when Ivan Perisic's powerful shot ricocheted off Greece's left post, with goalkeeper Orestis Karezis well beaten.

 FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifiers: Italy, Ireland struggle for finals berth; Croatia and Switzerland qualify

Croatian players celebrate after sealing a place in World Cup finals. Reuters

Greece came closest to scoring in the 87th minute when Panagiotis Tachtsidis's shot from inside the area was deflected off goalkeeper Danijel Subasic's legs. Greece also had two shots going just wide – one by Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the first half and another by Costas Mitroglou in the second – but otherwise did not threaten.

It is the third time that Croatia have qualified for the World Cup finals through playoffs after also advancing this way to the 1998 and 2014 tournaments. Croatia have never lost in the playoffs, including two qualifications for the European Championship.

Meanwhile, Switzerland scraped into next year’s World Cup, their fourth finals in a row, after being held to a goalless draw at home by a valiant and workman-like Northern Ireland who came desperately close to forcing extra-time on Sunday.

The Swiss qualified 1-0 on aggregate, the tie ultimately being decided by the hugely controversial penalty converted by Ricardo Rodriguez in the first leg in Belfast on Thursday.

With Croatia and Switzerland sealing qualification, only four spots remain at the 2018 World Cup. Australia and New Zealand remain among the eight nations still fighting for the final spots.

Four more matches will decide the final spots at the World Cup, with four second leg playoff ties remaining. Italy, Sweden, Ireland, Denmark, Australia, Honduras, New Zealand and Peru all stand a chance to qualify.

European playoff 1: Italy vs Sweden (Sweden lead 1-0 after the first leg in Solna, Sweden).

European playoff 2: Ireland vs Denmark (0-0 after the first leg in Copenhagen, Denmark).

AFC/CONCACAF playoff: Australia vs Honduras (0-0 after the first leg in San Pedro Sula, Honduras).

OFC/CONMEBOL play-off: Peru vs New Zealand (0-0 after the first leg in Wellington, New Zealand).

When are the playoffs?

14 November: Italy vs Sweden, 1:15 am IST (Tuesday morning).

15 November: Ireland vs Denmark, 1:15 am IST (Wednesday morning).

15 November: Australia vs Honduras, 2:30 pm IST (Wednesday).

16 November: Peru vs New Zealand, 7:45 an IST (Thursday).

With inputs from AP.

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Updated Date: Nov 13, 2017 23:23:00 IST