Bengaluru, November 10: Switzerland and Croatia took giant step towards Road to Russia, but under contrasting circumstances.
Switzerland needed a controversial penalty to earn a 1-0 win against Northern Ireland in the play-off first leg in Belfast while Croatia moved closer to Russia 2018 with an emphatic 4-1 home win against Greece.
The key moment in the Belfast game came with just over half an hour to go, when Xherdan Shaqiri's volley was blocked by Corry Evans in the box and the referee pointed to the spot, even though he appeared to have been hit on the shoulder as he took evasive action.
Ricardo Rodriguez made no mistake from the penalty spot, sending Michael McGovern the wrong way as the visitors finally made their superiority count to put them in the driving seat in the two-legged tie.
Too add insult to injury, Evans was also booked and ruled out of the return through suspension.
"I'm staggered by the decision, staggered by the yellow card," said Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill. "It's such a defining moment in the match."
The second leg takes place in Basel on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Croatia had it easy after the Balkan nation produced their most impressive qualifying performance.
The result left the Greeks with a difficult task to overhaul the deficit in Athens on Sunday if they are to reach their third successive finals.
Striker Nikola Kalinic, who stood in for the injured Mario Mandzukic, won a penalty for Croatia's opening goal scored by captain Luka Modric and netted the second with a deft touch to give the home side a 2-0 lead at Maksimir stadium.
Kalinic latched on to a fizzing low cross by left back Ivan Strinic as Croatia did the damage on either flank in an action-packed first half.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos pulled one back for Greece before Ivan Perisic made it 3-1 with a thumping close-range header, following a superb cross by right back Sime Vrsaljko.
Andrej Kramaric scored Croatia's fourth shortly after the break, poking the ball in from two metres after Vrsaljko had cut out a poor back pass.