Croatia opened their Euro 2008 account with a predictable but unconvincing 1-0 victory over co-hosts Austria at the Ernst-Happel Stadium here in Vienna on Sunday.
There were no surprises in a match between one of the outsiders for a run to the title and a team ranked 92nd in the FIFA world rankings – below even the likes of Guatemala, Libya and Trinidad and Tobago.
It took only four minutes for Austria to be exposed as the minnows that they are in this competition as Rene Aufhauser clumsily bundled over Ivica Olic in the box.
Middlesbrough defender Emanuel Pogatetz was booked for protesting over-zealously but there was little doubt that referee Pieter Vink from the Netherlands had got it spot on.
So too did new Tottenham signing Luka Modric who calmly slotted the ball down the middle as former Sunderland goalkeeper Jurgen Macho dived to his right.
Croatia bossed the early stages without looking like adding to their advantage while it took the co-hosts almost half an hour to muster their first effort on target.
Even then, centre-back Sebastian Proedl was wayward with a header from captain Andreas Ivanschitz's free-kick.
Croatia should have doubled their lead on 35 minutes when a deep cross from Manchester City's Vedran Corluka fell to Mladen Petric at the back post, but he lashed a left foot volley miles off target when composure, and maybe even a touch to bring the ball under control, was needed.
Austria had a brief period of pressure before the break when Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa palmed away a dangerous cross from Joachim Standfest and then Josip Simunic cut out a centre from Martin Marnik.
Pletikosa was then called into action again to punch clear Ivanschitz's corner before Standfest headed high and wide with a far post header from a deep cross.
Modric got behind the Croatia defence on the hour mark after a mistake from Pogatetz but Martin Stranzl sniffed out the danger and cleared the Spurs man's cross before Olic could get to it.
Just as had happened in the first half, Austria came more into things later on and the introduction of the lively Umit Korkmaz, as well as veteran Croatian born forward Ivica Vastic, added a spark to the hosts.
Even spurred on by a crowd of more than 50,000 people, Austria caused a few scares for the Croats who actually came closest to scoring when substitute Igor Budan's flick from a Corluka cross was deflected just past the near post.
Moments later another substitute Roman Kienast almost levelled but his flicked header drifted wide.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!