Poland head for home
A 1-0 defeat to Croatia in Group B ensured Poland suffered an early exit from Euro 2008.
By Peter Fraser
Last Updated: 16/06/08 11:04pm
A 1-0 defeat to Croatia in Group B ensured Poland suffered an early exit from the 2008 European Championship.
Poland went into the encounter at the Worthersee stadium clinging to a quarter-final hope, which would become reality if they defeated already-qualified Croatia and Austria upset Germany in Monday's other match.
However, Germany's victory over Austria in Vienna deemed Poland's efforts irrelevant and a solitary second half strike from Ivan Klasnic extended manager Leo Beenhakker's woes.
Croatia dominated the opening half as Poland struggled to threaten and it was only a string of fine saves from goalkeeper Artur Boruc which kept Beenhakker's men in the contest.
Croatia boss Slaven Bilic made nine changes to his regular first XI as he began preparations for Friday's last eight meeting with Turkey, but the tactical tinkering did not weaken his side as they continued to call the tune after the interval.
And on 52 minutes Klasnic, who recovered from two kidney transplants to take his place in Bilic's Euro 2008 squad, calmly converted a low Danijel Pranjic cut-back to give Croatia a 100 per cent record in the group stages.
Poland enjoyed their best moments in the opening minutes of the first half as and Mariusz Lewandowski and Dariusz Dudka both should have done better after winning headers from corners, with neither testing Vedran Runje in the Croatia goal.
However, it was pretty much all Croatia after that with Bilic's new-look side getting in behind the Polish defence on a number of occasions.
The first time came in the 14th minute when Pranjic was played through by Klasnic, but the impressive left-back's attempted chip over goalkeeper Boruc drifted harmlessly across goal.
Bilic's side went much closer with their next opportunity, when Hrvoje Vejic's glancing header from an Ivan Rakitic free-kick bounced just past the far post with Boruc a helpless bystander.
Boruc was needed to save his side in the 31st minute though when Klasnic was played in on the edge of the area, and the goalkeeper did well to come out and block the Werder Bremen striker's shot with his feet.
Croatia were starting to look increasingly dangerous and Boruc again did well to deny Rakitic and Pranjic after the Polish defence had twice been breached down their right-hand side.
The Balkan nation continued to push for the opener right up to the break and Jerko Leko sent a low 25-yard shot fizzing just wide of Boruc's right post, before the Polish No.1 did superbly to save from Klasnic on the stroke of half-time following another one-on-one with the Croatia hitman.
Croatia may not have got the breakthrough their play deserved in the first period, but they needed just seven minutes of the second half to take the lead.
The goal involved two of the game's most exciting performers, with full-back Pranjic racing onto a loose ball on the edge of the Poland area before cutting a pass back to Klasnic, who slotted home first time low to Boruc's left.
With Germany also taking an early second-half lead against co-hosts Austria courtesy of a Michael Ballack free-kick, Klasnic's strike all but signalled the end of Poland's slim qualification hopes.
Pranjic almost caught Boruc out with a cross that landed on the top of the crossbar, before Poland had arguably their best effort up to that point through Roger Guerreiro, but the Brazilian-born forward fired wide of the far post.
Guerreiro caused more problems for the Croatia defence in the 68th minute when his far-post cross picked out Marek Saganowski, but the Southampton player's downward header was well held by Runje.
Poland's defence were given a boost with 17 minutes remaining when Bilic opted to replace the dangerous strike pairing of Klasnic and Mladen Petric, but that did little to help Beenhakker's men at the other end of the field.
Polish substitute Ebi Smolarek had two decent efforts for his side in the closing stages but neither were on target, before Tomasz Zahorski missed a gilt-edged chance in the 88th minute when, after going clean through, he was denied by the feet of Runje as Croatia held on for the win.