Euro 2008 – Croatia scrape to win over Austria
An early penalty from Luka Modric gave Croatia an unconvincing 1-0 European Championships Group B opening win over a plucky Austria side at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna.
Rene Aufhauser’s clumsy tackle felled Ivica Olic in the third minute, and new Tottenham midfielder Modric calmly slotted the ball past Juergen Mach to score the quickest penalty ever in European Championships history.
Austria can take heart despite the defeat, as they outplayed an ordinary Croatia side – the game came in the light of 10,000 of their own fans signing a petition calling for their withdrawal from the tournament to avoid humiliation at the hands of their “superiors”.
For the first half an hour Croatia looked the far more technically gifted side.
But Croatia missed injured Arsenal forward Eduardo, his composure in front of goal absent along with his presence on the pitch.
Olic and strike-partner Mladen Petric both went close but were denied by poor finishing with the head and left foot respectively.
But, playmaker Andreas Ivanschitz aside, Austria are a big, powerful outfit and their superior strength showed as the match went on.
Sebastian Proedl and Aufhauser both should have levelled before half-time but sent free headers wide as Austria piled the pressure on their guests, particularly from set-pieces.
Austria were similarly hapless in front of goal as Croatia, and Proedl missed with another header a few minutes before the break.
The second half continued in a similar vein, as Austria played a direct game to try and get back into the match.
Slaven Bilic’s men were, however, more effective on the counter attack, with Petric and Olic both going close and the latter drawing a cynical foul from Proedl that could have seen him sent off.
There were some nervy moments for Stipe Pletikosan in the Croatia goal and, as the match reached its conclusion, Austria were attacking in waves and could have broken the deadlock through veteran substitute Ivica Vastic.
Subs Korkmaz Ozcan and Roman Kienast also caused the Croats problems, the former which his tricky dribbling and the latter with his direct forward play.
The team that beat England twice in qualifying for the tournament were hanging on by the end, with Pletikosa’s handling sometimes unconventional but ultimately effective as he kept Vastic, Kienast and Korkmaz from levelling for Austria.
And, in the final seconds of injury-time, Kienast shaved the upright with a superbly improvised flicked header from just inside the box for Austria’s final chance to get something from the game.
But Croatia held on for the win as the second of the co-hosts – derided as whipping-boys before the tournament start – lost their opening game despite a good performance.