CROATIA showed they are well-equipped to make a serious bid for the Euro 2008 title last night when their second string ended Poland's interest in the tournament in Klagenfurt.
Already assured of a quarter-final clash against Turkey after topping their group, Slaven Bilic's impressive side followed up wins over Austria and Germany with an efficient display against a poor Poland side and should have won more convincingly.
The only goal came eight minutes into the second half from Ivan Klasnic, a striker who has undergone two kidney transplants in the last 18 months. "We are very proud because we played this match at such a high level and scored a third victory here," Bilic said. "We didn't just play good – we played super."
Poland went into the game needing to win by at least two goals to have any chance of reaching the last eight, and with Croatia resting nine first-choice players they could not have had a better situation.
However, in the end, even if they had won, they would still have crashed out after Germany beat Austria in the other match in the section. The Poles qualified for the finals of the tournament by finishing above Portugal in their group, but they looked toothless up front and lacked in midfield creativity, shortcomings that ultimately contributed to their single goal return from three games. "To be realistic, during this tournament we weren't good enough," said Poland coach Leo Beenhakker.
After 10 minutes Croatia keeper Vedran Runje had to act smartly to punch away a cross just before it reached the head of Jacek Krzynowek but that was the only time he was seriously called into action in the first half. At the other end, Poland's Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc had to make two good saves with his feet to deny the ever-dangerous Klasnic.
Defender Hrvoje Vejic also flashed a header just wide while Danijel Pranjic should have done better when he shot across goal when clean through.
The finishing couldn't be faulted eight minutes into the second half, however, when Klasnic clipped the only goal of the game past Boruc.
Poland: Boruc, Wasilewski, Zewlakow, Dudka, Wawrzyniak, Lobodzinski (Smolarek 55), Murawski, Roger, Lewandowski (Kokoszka 46), Krzynowek, Saganowski (Zahorski 69). Subs not used: Kowalewski, Fabianski, Jop, Golanski, Bak, Gargula, Pazdan. Booked: Lewandowski, Zahorski.
Croatia: Runje, Simic, Vejic, Knezevic (Corluka 26), Pranjic, Leko, Vukojevic, Pokrivac, Rakitic, Klasnic (Kalinic 74), Petric (Kranjcar 75). Subs not used: Pletikosa, Galinovic, Simunic, R Kovac, N Kovac, Srna, Modric, Olic, Budan. Booked: Vejic, Vukojevic.