Croatia has dream start, panicky finish in a 1-0 victory over Austria at Euro 2008
| Croatian midfielder Luka Modric celebrates after scoring a penalty during their Euro 2008 Championships Group B football match Austria vs. Croatia at Ernst-Happel stadium in Vienna, Austria. Croatia won 1-0. |
The Associated PressPublished: June 8, 2008
VIENNA, Austria: Croatia got its dream start at the European Championship on Sunday, almost exactly the way coach Slaven Bilic planned it.
A fourth-minute penalty converted by Luka Modric, and then tight control of the midfield that gave Austria very little space in the first half, helped the Croats to a 1-0 win over the Euro 2008 co-hosts in Group B.
"Psychologically, this match was very difficult for us because we had to win," said Modric, who nonetheless added that he experienced no nerves while taking the penalty.
In the second half, things changed. The Croatia defense seemed to panic and allowed too many free kicks near the danger zone.
"The early goal helped us a lot," Bilic said. "We controlled the first half flawlessly, but then withdrew to the defense too much. We gave the Austrians too many free kicks in the second half."
Modric said that was not the team's fault.
"We did not go defensive because we wanted to, they simply pressured us into doing it," Modric said.
Croatia, considered an outside favorite to win the European title, next plays Germany in Group B, which also includes Poland.
"Now, our attention shifts to Germany," Bilic said. "With the three points in our pocket, we'll be motivated and very dangerous in that game."
Sunday's early lead gave the Croats some much-needed calm for the rest of the match, with their tactics clearly shifting to the defense and counterattacks.
"It was a very difficult match for us, especially in the second half," Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa said. "But the good start is always very important at these tournaments."
Ivica Olic, Croatia's top player in the match, was at the center of most of the striking action.
Also, Modric combined with Niko Kranjcar, and veteran captain Niko Kovac fully exposed the best part of the Croatian squad — the technically and physically superior midfield. The Croatian defense, considered a weaker part of the team, was solid in the first half, but as the match progressed it withdrew into its penalty area, allowing the Austrians several chances.
Central defender Josip Simunic controlled the heart of his penalty zone, out-jumping the Austrian strikers and clearing away most of the danger. He received a lot of support from Robert Kovac and Vedran Corluka, who controlled the defensive flanks.
Austria 0 Croatia 1: Modric's class sends shiver of anticipation and fear
| Croatia's Luka Modric beats the Austria goalkeeper Jurgen Macho from the penalty spot to score the winner in Vienna yesterday |
By Glenn Moore at Ernst Happel Stadium
Monday, 9 June 2008
For the watching Fabio Capello, the first match of this tournament to be played in its Austrian half offered reasons both to be encouraged and to be fearful. Croatia, England's first serious opponents when the World Cup qualifiers begin in the autumn, were manifestly superior, their class implicit in nearly every touch, but they had a desperate struggle attempting to put away their game.
Given the perfect start when Luka Modric rolled in a fourth-minute penalty, Croatia initially looked as if they would cruise to three points. But as the game wore on they retreated into defence and were nearly undone. Austria spent the last half-hour laying siege to the Croatian goal.
While Capello will have observed this match with mixed feelings, any Tottenham fans watching will have felt only anticipation. Modric dictated the tempo of the game. Though a slight figure he was difficult to dispossess, even the giant Martin Stranzl failing to restrain him. He has a gymnast's balance but a miner's toughness.
A few days before playing Croatia, England had beaten Austria 1-0. Six of the Austrians remained in the starting XI, the contrast with Croatia underlining the problems Josef Hickersberger has had building a team. Having usually fielded a back four he opted yesterday for a back three and wing-backs. England did the same, to lamentable effect, when losing to Croatia in Belgrade. As he did then, Slaven Bilic told his team to draw the centre-halves wide, the classic way to play a back three. This paid immediate dividends.
Modric received a quickly taken throw-in, skipped around Starnzl, and found Ivica Olic driving into the box. The Hamburg striker was too quick for Rene Aufhauser, who bowled him over. Emanuel Pogatetz was booked for leading the protests and the Middlesbrough defender should have paid for his indiscipline 26 minutes later. Comprehensively beaten on the flank by Olic he pulled him back. The Dutch referee reached for his cards, hesitated, then took the soft option. Although Olic had previously twice gone close from set pieces, Croatia were already showing signs of caution. For the third match in succession, the better team, having scored first, increasingly sat back and invited their inferiors on to them, seeking to score on the counter-attack.
The ploy worked perfectly for Portugal on Saturday, but the Czechs only escaped by the width of the crossbar. Croatia, too, rode their luck. Austria wasted a succession of half-chances but then stretched Pletikosa, who had to go full length to deny Umit Korkmaz. In injury time Roman Kienast rose high, but his header flashed wide, leaving both sides with bittersweet emotions.
Austria (3-4-1-2): Macho (AEK Athens); Prodl (Sturm Graz), Stranzl (Spartak Moscow), Pogatetz (Middlesbrough); Standfest (Austria Vienna), Saumel (Sturm Graz), Aufhauser (Salzburg), Gercaliu (Austria Vienna); Ivanschitz (Panathinaikos); Harnik (Werder Bremen), Linz (Sporting Braga). Substitutes: Vastic (Linz) for Saumel, 60; Korkmaz (Rapid Vienna) for Gercaliu, 69; Kienast (Ham-Kam) for Linz, 73.
Croatia (4-1-3-2): Pletikosa (Spartak Moscow); Corluka (Manchester City), R Kovac (Borussia Dortmund), Simunic (Hertha Berlin), Pranjic (Heerenveen); N Kovac (Salzburg); Srna (Shaktar Donetsk), Modric (Tottenham), Kranjcar (Portsmouth); Petric (Borussia Dortmund), Olic (Hamburg). Substitutes: Knezevic (Livorno) for Krancjar, 61; Budan (Parma) for Petric, 72; Vukojevic (Dynamo Zagreb) for Olic, 83.
Referee: P Vink (Netherlands).
Booked: Austria Pogatetz, Saumel, Prodl; Croatia R Kovac.
Man of the match: Modric.
Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/internationals/austria-0-croatia-1-modrics-class-sends-shiver-of-anticipation-and-fear-842874.htmlTournament fixtures
| 08/06/2008 || v || Austria || 1 - 0 |
| 12/06/2008 || v || Germany || 18:00 |
| 16/06/2008 || v || Poland || 20:45 |
Source: http://www.euro2008.uefa.com/tournament/teams/team=56370/index.html Formatted for CROWN by Marko Puljiæ
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