Football: Eduardo fires Croatia past Wales

Eduardo guided Croatia to a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Wales in a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday to keep them alongside Belgium at the top of Group A.

The Brazilian-born former Arsenal striker struck home the decisive goal with three minutes to play after Gareth Bale's 21st minute penalty had put Wales ahead, before Dejan Lovren equalised in the 77th minute.

The first half was played at a high-tempo, entertaining pace, and when Croatia centre-back Vederan Corluka hacked down a fast-advancing Bale in the seventh minute, the Spurs winger saw his effort from the free-kick go high and wide.

Croatian playmaker Luka Modric broke down the right and played the ball inside to Brazilian-born midfielder Sammir, who sliced his follow-up shot just wide.

Immediately after, Wales goalkeeper Boaz Myhill was on hand to fend off a free Eduardo head-down from point blank, the Welsh defence caught napping thinking the ball had gone out of play.

Wales held their nerve, and when Craig Bellamy played Joe Ledley into the penalty box, Lovren's clumsy tackle brought the latter down in a heap, leaving the referee with no choice but to point to the spot.

In-form Bale converted with aplomb to give Wales the perfect start after 21 minutes gone.

Croatia stepped up a gear in their bid to find an equaliser, James Collins holding the home defence firm, and it was again that man Bale who found himself in more space in the 34th minute.

The impressive Hal Robson-Kanu found the Spurs hitman on the edge of the Croatian goalkeeper's area after a left-wing dart.

The first-time shot was excellently executed but lacked power and 'keeper Stipe Pletikosa snaffled the ball without problem.

Bale was almost on hand to finish off a length-of-the-field attack, beautifully controlling a long cross-field ball from Robson-Kanu, only to see his shot blaze over the left corner of a stranded Pletikosa's goalposts.

Bellamy then went close after Bale played in the Cardiff City veteran with a magnificent backflick, as the home side dominated both possession and territory in a thoroughly entertaining first-half.

Eduardo had the first chance of the second period, a header going wide after a sustained six minutes of Croatian pressure.

Myhill pulled off an amazing save from a powerful shot deflected at close range, again by Eduardo, and Modric then fired a pass across the face of the Welsh goal, to no avail.

As Wales flagged in midfield, Lovren broke home hearts when he blasted in a 35-metre effort that deceived Myhill in flight, a fair return for a Croatia side that had not stopped pressing.

Bale saw a speculative drive go wide just minutes later, and influential replacement Ivica Olic blasted a shot over the top at the other end in a frantic end to the game at Swansea's Liberty Stadium.

But Eduardo snatched the important goal as time ran down, latching on to Olic's cross and nailing a half-volley through Myhill's legs, his 27th goal for his adopted country.

Croatia now have to host Scotland, are away to neighbours Serbia, before entertaining Belgium and finish with a trip to Scotland.

The remaining fixtures for Wales, who haven't played at a major finals since the 1958 World Cup, see them travel to Macedonia, then host Serbia and Macedonia before rounding off their campaign away to Belgium.