Croatia’s veteran striker Ivica Olic scored and set up another goal to help secure a 2-0 win over bitter Balkan rivals Serbia in a sensitive Group A 2014 World Cup qualifier on Friday.
Victory lifted the Croatians to the top of the group on 13 points from five games, three more than Belgium who are away to Macedonia later on Friday.
Serbia have four points from five matches ahead of a home game against Scotland on Tuesday.
Mario Mandzukic fired Croatia ahead midway through the first half when Olic capitalised on a calamitous error by Serbia’s left back Aleksandar Kolarov and squared the ball back to his strike partner, who prodded it home past two defenders from close range.
The 33-year-old Olic doubled the home team’s advantage in the 37th minute, chesting in from the edge of the five-yard box a teasing Darijo Srna free kick after Kolarov was booked for a rash tackle on Mandzukic.
Serbia missed a good chance to pull one back shortly after the break, when Croatia keeper parried Kolarov’s stinging shot from 16 metres and Zoran Tosic side-footed the rebound wide with the goal at his mercy.
Croatia then twice went close as Luka Modric’s shot from 20 metres sailed just wide and Ivan Rakitic’s low cross flashed across the face of goal.
Substitute Filip Djordjevic wasted a golden opportunity for Serbia in the closing stages, when he directed his shot from six metres straight at Stipe Pletikosa after the keeper could only parry Filip Djuricic’s effort from inside the penalty box.
The match was played under tight security amid fears of crowd trouble but apart from sporadic volleys of abuse that pockets of home fans directed at Serbia’s players, it was an incident-free event after both federations agreed not to take away fans to either fixture.
The two sides, who met for the first time as independent nations following the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, will meet again in Belgrade on September 6.