Croatia starts off with a victory

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IN THE SCORING ACT: Luka Modric converted a penalty to give Croatia full points.
IN THE SCORING ACT: Luka Modric converted a penalty to give Croatia full points.

Luka Modric’s fourth-minute penalty kick does the trick

VIENNA: Luka Modric scored from the penalty spot to give Croatia a 1-0 win over co-host Austria at Euro 2008 here on Sunday. Modric put his team ahead in the fourth-minute of the Group ‘B’ match after Rene Aufhauser brought down Ivica Olic in the area.

Modric and Olic combined down the left wing from a throw-in and took the ball into the box before Aufhauser ran across and knocked down Olic as he went past. Dutch referee Pieter Vink awarded the penalty and Austrian defender Emanuel Pogatetz was then given a yellow card for protesting.

With goalkeeper Juergen Macho diving to his right, Modric sent the ball low and into the middle of the net.

Deft interplay

The early goal lifted Croatia and Austria struggled to contain the deft interplay in central midfield between Modric and captain Niko Kovac, with Darijo Srna down the right flank the main recipient of their wide passes.

Srna tormented Austria’s three-man defence once Modric, in particular, had threaded the ball through the opposing five-man midfield. Olic also caused problems up front, drifting across the field to stretch the defence.

Holding on

Playing in front of 54,000 fans at the Ernst Happel Stadium, Austria lifted the intensity of its challenges and started to receive more possession, but Croatia kept its shape to ensure that the host took only long-range shots.

The host dominated late, but Croatia was able to hold on for a win.

Juergen Saemuel sent a 25-yard shot straight to Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa, while Sebastian Proedl couldn’t keep his 35-yard shot from flying over the crossbar midway through the first half.

Austria had more success as the first half wore on and when the ball was shifted to the flanks, where midfielder Ronald Gercaliu and defender Joachim Standfest sent in crosses that troubled Pletikosa.

Austria had a chance to score in the 40th minute when Aufhauser put the ball in behind left-back Danijel Pranjic and Martin Harnik crossed across the face of goal to try and find Saemuel but Pletikosa intercepted.

Pogatetz had moments earlier fouled Olic near the Austrian box and was lucky not to receive a second yellow card.

The second half was the exact opposite of the first.

Austria continuously outflanked Croatia down each wing as the game became more and more stretched with the host team appearing to possess the greater stamina, while Croatia was reduced to eking out the odd chance.

Modric had an opportunity when he stole the ball from an unsuspecting defender and dribbled into the box, but Pogatetz was able to head the deft chip away and the ball was soon travelling into Croatia’s half.

Responding to the partisan roars of the crowd, Austria kept sending in crosses and Petikosa didn’t look comfortable dealing with them as Ivica Vastic and Roman Kienast came on for Austria.

The result: Group ‘B’: Croatia 1 (Modric 4-pen) bt Austria 0. — AP

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