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Croatia 0-0 Russia: Group wide open

ZAGREB, June 6 (Reuters) - Croatia stayed on course to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals and extended their unbeaten home run to 32 competitive matches after a 0-0 draw with Russia in their Group E qualifier on Wednesday.

The Croatians, who have never lost a European Championship or World Cup qualifier at home, top the group with 17 points from seven matches, ahead on goal difference of Israel who have played a game more.

Third-placed Russia, on 15 points from seven games, and England, in fourth on 14 from seven, are also very much in the hunt ahead of what Russia's coach Guus Hiddink believes will be their crucial double-header in September and October.

Dario Shimich and Juri Zhirkov

Dario Shimich and Juri Zhirkov (l). Photo: AFP

'That's when this tight group will be decided and hopefully we will be able to perform well and get the results we need against England,' he told Croatian television after seeing his team hang on against a more adventurous home side.

'We are happy with the outcome here because very few teams have been able to get a result against a top quality Croatia side in Zagreb and the performance will also give us a lot of confidence,' he said.

Croatia had the Russians on the back foot for long spells but resolute defending from the visitors and a good save from their keeper Vyacheslav Malafeyev in the closing stages denied the hosts a sixth successive win in the group.

After a dour first half, Croatia twice came close in the space of a minute near the hour mark when Eduardo da Silva saw his shot into en empty net charged down and Josip Simunic's looping header came off the crossbar.

Croatia, unable to break through a packed Russian midfield and carve out clear-cut chances, pressed on with long balls in search of a winner and almost got it when Malafaeyev parried Petric's fierce shot and then scrambled the ball off the line.

The home team's coach Slaven Bilic was pleased with the performance but rued a missed chance to pull clear of Croatia's rivals at the top of the group.

'We did everything but score, the lads did a great job and played their hearts out but it wasn't enough against a defensive Russian side,' he said.

'It's a pity we didn't put them away because we were the better side but the outcome still leaves us in a great position to qualify. It will be a very interesting run-in though.'

Croatia's next match is at home to Estonia on Sept. 8, when Russia host Macedonia while England entertain Israel.

Croatia 0 - 0 Russia
June 6, 2007
Stadium: Stadion Maksimir
Attendance: 38,000
Referee: Lubos Michel (Slovakia)

Croatia Russia
1 Stipe Pletikosa Viacheslav Malafeev 16
5 Vedran Corluka Aleksandr Aniukov 22
4 Robert Kovac Alexei Berezutsky 27
2 Dario Simic Vasili Berezutsky 2
3 Josip Simunic Sergei Ignashevich 5
22 Da Silva Eduardo Viktor Boudianski 28
10 Nico Kovac Vladimir Bystrov 23
19 Niko Kranjcar Igor Semshov 20
14 Luka Modric Yuri Zhirkov 18
11 Darijo Srna Andrei Arshavin 10
18 Ivica Olic Alexander Kerzhakov 11
12 Mario Galinovic Vladimir Gabulov 30
13 Dario Knezevic Denis Kolodin 25
8 Marko Babic Dmitri Torbinsky 7
16 Jerko Leko Konstatin Zurianov 17
15 Jurica Vranjes Pavel Pogrebniak 13
25 Igor Budan Ivan Saenko 9
21 Mladen Petric Dmitri Sychev 26
J Leko for D Srna (8) D Torbinsky for V Boudianski (46)
M Petric for N Kranjcar (66)
I Saenko for V Bystrov (61)
M Babic for I Olic (83)
D Sychev for A Kerzhakov (73)
Yellow Cards
Jerko Leko (72)
Dmitri Torbinsky (69)
  Ivan Saenko (71)

ESPNsoccernet, June 6, 2007

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