Slovenia’s hopes of qualifying looked bright after beating Croatia last week but now are fading fast after a surprise 1-0 loss to Cyprus. The hosts scored against the run of play in the 42nd minute when Ioannis Pittas fired low past Jan Oblak. Cyprus defended deep and held on for only their second win in 14 games.Croatia beat Malta 3-0 at home after second-half substitutes Ivan Perisic, Luka Modric and Josip Brekalo struck to force the rugged visitors into submission.
The Group H result lifted 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia to the top of the standings on six points from three games, ahead of Russia on goal difference, after the Russians suffered a 2-1 defeat at third-placed Slovakia, who have five points.
Croatia laid siege to the Maltese area in the first half and created two early chances as Nikola Vlasic shot wide from 10 metres while Mario Pasalic’s 14th-minute header hit the top of the crossbar.
Modric and Perisic, who started on the bench after their exertions in Croatia’s opening two games, made a decisive impact after coach Zlatko Dalic threw them on shortly after the break as the home side struggled to carve out the supply routes.