Croatia rest stars, cruise into quarter finals

Chris PotterCorrespondent IJune 17, 2008

Last night, a second-string Croatia dominated Poland for long periods of their final group match but had just Ivan Klasnic's classy strike early in the second half as proof of their clear superiority.

Poland started the game knowing that it would take something miraculous for them to progress but, nevertheless, started the game on the front foot against a much-changed Croatian side. Bilic rested all of his starters against Germany with the exception of Rakitic and the irrepressible Pranjic, who would roam menacingly down the left flank throughout the night. 

The men in white had their first chance to go ahead just a few minutes into the match when Dariusz Dudka flashed a header wide of the far post from eight yards from a corner, with the Croatian defenders nowhere to be seen.

Minutes later, Croatia's Vejic had an even better chance to put his side ahead but headed agonisingly wide from close range at the near post following an excellent free-kick by Rakitic. In truth, he did well to arch his body backwards to meet the fierce delivery but having done the hard work, will have been disappointed not to have tested Artur Boruc.

Moments later, Boruc made the first of an impressive string of saves to deny Ivan Klasnic, who chested down a flick through from strike partner Petric only to see his volley palmed away by the Celtic stopper. Boruc then spared Dudka's blushes after the centre half allowed Klasnic to wriggle away from him on the left side of the box.

Despite Croatia's front four exposing Poland's fragile defence time and again, the sides went into the break all square.

Leo Beenhakker decided to bring on Kokoszka for Lewandowski for the second half in an attempt to bring fresh impetus to Poland's offense but it was to no avail as Klasnic made his telling contribution seven minutes into the second half.

Having tangled with Wasilewski in trying to get on the end of Rakitic's through ball, the tall left-footed striker, picked himself up to meet Pranjic's low centre with an inch-perfect first time finish low into the far corner.

Credit must go to the referee for not blowing up but instead allowing Croatia to use the situation to their advantage, where other officials might have intuitively stopped play. 

Rakitic and Pranjic continued to create havoc on the right side of Poland's rearguard with the two combining again minutes later but the latter somewhat fortuitously looped his effort over Boruc and onto the top of the bar.

Roger Guerreiro then missed a golden opportunity to score his second goal of the tournament to give his side a glimmer of hope but dragged his shot wide of the far post having turned his man to create a yard of space following Wawrzyniak's centre.

Smolarek's introduction on 55 minutes coincided with the game's most lively period and with Poland starting to create more problems for Bilic's charges. Following an exquisite drag back and touch to take him away from Pranjic and Pokrivac on the edge of the box, the Racing Santander enforcer, crashed a left footed strike just wide and then set up fellow substitute Zahorski with a superb ball that tore the Croatian defence asunder.

Unfortunately, Zahorski's tentative finish belied a striker short on playing time and confidence.

Kalinic and Krancjar replaced the two frontmen for Croatia as Bilic looked to make his side more compact and consolidate the slim advantage the Croatians had held since the start of the half and there were no such scares on the touchline for the roguish and loveable manager. 

The men in chequered shirts ease into the quarter finals where they will face Turkey buoyant and full of the contagious confidence that their mentor exudes.

Meanwhile, Poland will bemoan giving away a last minute penalty and a deserved point against Austria and not taking some good chances in this match but, ultimately these are the crucial factors that matter in this short format, where teams can be in and out of the tournament in the blink of an eye.

Poland 0 (0) Croatia 1 (0)


Poland (4-4-2)

Boruc 8; Wasilewski 6, Zewlakow 5, Dudka 5, Wawrzyniak 6, Lobodzinksi 5 (55- Smolarek 8), Murawski 5, Roger 6, Lewandowski 5 (46, Kokszki 6); Kryznowek 5, Saganowski 5 (69, Zahorski 4)

Yellow cards: Lewandowski, Zahorski

Croatia (4-4-2)

Runje 6; Simic 6, Vejic 6, Knezevic 4 (26, Corluka 7), Pranjic 8; Leko 6, Vukojevic 7, Pokrivac 7, Rakitic 8; Petric 6 (75, Kranjcar), Klasnic 6 (74, Kalinic)

Goal: Klasnic 52

Yellow cards: Vejic, Vukojevic

Man of the match: Pranjic

Referee: Kyros Vassaras 7 


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