Klagenfurt: This was a stroll for Croatia at the Woerthersee Stadium. It ended with a victory — supplied by a second-string team and a strike by Ivan Klasnic, who has spent 13 months out because of a serious kidney complaint — which allowed them to top Group B with a maximum nine points, having conceded only once.
It is a record which sends a message to the other nations who fancy their chances of winning Euro 2008, though one slight concern might be that, with the prolific Eduardo da Silva absent through injury, goals have so far been at a premium. But four is still, at the close of the always cagey preliminary stage, respectable.
“This is my second life now,” Klasnic said. His first attempted kidney transplant — donated by his mother — was rejected. The second, which came from his father, was accepted in March of last year.
Here he was officially named the man of the match. “It feels like a dream,” he added. “I scored once and had two more chances and for this I thank God.”
His coach, Slaven Bilic, talked of how the 28-year-old had returned to football as “the top scorer in Werder Bremen, his club, in one of the toughest leagues in the world. It is the perfect success story”. So, too, are his team.
Bilic had begun his customary prowl around the technical area at the start and what he saw was his team conceding a corner after four minutes. When it was delivered, Mariusz Lewandowski wasted a free header, producing a sideways effort which failed to test Vedran Runje.
Poland began the sharper but faded once 15 minutes had passed and, apart from the rare occasion, never really re-entered proceedings.
When Croatia finally created a first chance, its classy quality was a warning of how this evening would unfold.
From inside Poland’s half, Ognjen Vukojevic, operating at the centre of Croatia’s 4-4-2, flipped a clever ball to the onrushing Danijel Pranjic. The left-back, excellent throughout, moved smoothly into the area before attempting a delicate lob — which went wide — over the advancing Artur Boruc.
A better chance, and the beginning of Croatia’s dominance, arrived on 20 minutes. From a free-kick on the right, Ivan Rakitic played a diagonal ball into Poland’s area. It found Hrvoje Vejic, but he could not finish.
Most of Croatia’s best work carried an edge, whereas any advance from Poland during the first half ended in a misplaced pass or a clumsy cross.
Within four minutes of the restart the news that Michael Ballack had put Germany ahead against Austria came through, meaning Poland’s outside chance of qualifying for the quarterfinal had further decreased.
The Poles, however, started the second half in a positive manner and threatened down the right. They forced a corner but again it came to nothing — the story, Beenhakker said, of their Euro 2008 challenge. “We just were not good enough during this tournament.”
Croatia’s goal confirmed that Poland were flying home. Inevitably it was the marauding Pranjic who began the damage by sliding a pass in to Klasnic. His finish was instant and decisive.
Croatia meets Turkey in Vienna on Friday for a place in the semifinals. Can, Bilic was asked, they get there? “I do not want to talk about this now because (Turkey) are a tough opponent.” But, make no mistake, he believes his team can go far.
The result: Croatia 1 (Ivan Klasnic 53) bt Poland. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008