Croatia and Russia both stayed on course to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after they fought out a 0-0 stalemate devoid of any fireworks in an uneventful Group H qualifier on Wednesday.
The result left Croatia top of the group on seven points from four games, ahead of second-placed Russia on goal difference. Slovakia are third on six points after a 1-1 home draw with fourth-placed Slovenia, who have four points.
Russia’s new coach Valeri Karpin had hoped for a more sparkling debut but his side created very little up front against a well-organised Croatian defence featuring debutant Borna Sosa on the left flank.
Arsen Zakharyan, an 18-year old who became the youngest outfield player to feature for Russia, drew a fingertip save from visiting goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic with a rasping shot from the edge of the area in the 15th minute.
Ivan Perisic should have fired the Croatians ahead in the 43rd but scuffed his shot wide of the far post before Livakovic kept out an Aleksei Ionov effort early in the second half.
With the pace fizzing out, the home team’s Brazilian-born goalkeeper Guilherme smothered a Luka Ivanusec shot in the 82nd minute.
Croatia stretched their unbeaten record against the Russians to five games.