Euro 2008 – Klasnic ends Poland’s involvement


The curtain on Poland’s Euro 2008 campaign was brought down after Ivan Klasnic‘s second-half strike gave group winners Croatia a 1-0 win at the Woerthersee Stadium in Klagenfurt.

FOOTBALL Euro 2008 croatia's Ivan Klasnic celebrates scoring in the match against Poland. - 0

The result saw Poland finish bottom of Group B with a solitary point from their three games, while Croatia advance to the quarter-finals – where they will meet Turkey -with a maximum nine points.

Germany will join Croatia in the last eight after Michael Ballack netted the only goal in a 1-0 win over co-hosts Austria in Vienna.

With Croatia’s place in the quarter-finals already booked, Slaven Bilic opted to rest several of his key personnel for the clash with Poland. Indeed, nine of his first-choice players were given the night off, but as England discovered to their cost at Wembley back in November, Croatia simply do not do ‘meaningless games’.

Bilic has instilled such a sense of togetherness and pride in his squad that, even with qualification sealed and a second XI out on the pitch, their desire to win, or perhaps more likely their refusal to lose, proved stronger than their opponents’.

Victory was deserved, although it is hard not to feel sorry for Poland, who as a nation still feel aggrieved about the manner of their draw – and two dropped points – against Austria last week.

Their participation in the tournament was effectively ended during a five-minute spell just after the restart when a double hammer blow knocked the wind out of their sails.

First, at the Ernst Happel Stadium, Ballack thumped home a free kick to put Germany ahead and then Werder Bremen striker Klasnic swooped soon after in Klagenfurt, leaving Poland with a mountain to climb – a task that proved too much for Leo Beenhakker’s side.

Hamburg-born Klasnic justified his selection in Bilic’s squad with a super first time finish from the dangerous Danijel Pranjic‘s pass inside in the 53rd minute.

The goal was a fitting tribute to a player whose life was in real danger following a failed kidney transplant operation not so long ago, but Poland’s downfall emanated from a little closer to home.

Poland may well have started the evening knowing that their only hope of retaining an interest in the tournament was to score two goals, but their approach to the game belied the gravity of that situation.

Southampton striker Marek Saganowski was asked to play up front on his own and with both support and service from midfield in serious shortage, Poland struggled to threaten the Croatia goal.

Apart from Dariusz Dudka‘s early header from a corner – which flashed wide of the upright – the first half passed by with little Polish attacking threat.

That Artur Boruc was Poland’s busiest player during the opening period told its own story. The Celtic keeper had to be – and was – in fine form, denying Croatia a goal with a series of fine stops during the first half.

Just after the half-hour mark, Boruc made his first important intervention of the night, saving with his legs to deny Klasnic after the striker had been put through on goal.

Minutes later the Polish number one was again called into action, this time from the lively Ivan Ratikic, before Klasnic was foiled for a second time in first-half stoppage time.

Soon after the break Klasnic finally got the better of Boruc to give Croatia the lead and only then did Poland begin to get back into the game.

At a goal down, Poland finally began to come back into the game, Brazil-born Roger Guerreiro proving his worth on 64 minutes with a neat turn and shot that flew just wide of its intended target.

Saganowski then saw a header saved by Vefran Runje in the Croatia net before Ebi Smolorek was introduced and reminded everyone just why he came to Austria as the leading goalscorer in qualifying at the tournament. The Racing Santander striker went close three times as time ran out and looked a far livelier player than in the opening two games.

But the best chance for Poland to end their campaign on a high fell to another substitute, but Tomasz Zahorski could only shoot straight at Runje after having been put clean through on goal.

The late pressure proved too little too late from Poland, who must now contemplate watching the remainder of the tournament on television. As for Croatia, they continue to surprise and impress in equal measures.

Mike Hytner / Eurosport

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