Early penalty proves enough for Croatia
The goal immediately settled the Croatians, whose neat-passing midfielders began coolly knocking the ball around.sports Updated: Jun 08, 2008 23:31 IST
Croatia got their Euro 2008 campaign off to a winning start on Sunday when a fourth-minute Luka Modric penalty proved enough to beat co-hosts Austria 1-0 in the opening game of Group B.
Croatia were well worth their win against a team placed 92nd in FIFA's world rankings and set the pace before group rivals Germany and Poland met in Klagenfurt later on Sunday (1845 GMT).
Austria have been widely tipped to lose all three games in their first appearance at a European Championship. Though they were keen enough, their disjointed efforts betrayed a lack of competitive action and they only came alive in the last 20 minutes.
Croatia, noisily backed by around 20,000 of their fans in the team's red and white chequered shirts, arrived at the tournament full of confidence after seeing off England from their qualifying group.
The decisive moment came minutes after their supporters had taken their seats after the anthems.
Ivica Olic was chasing a hopeful ball towards the byline when he was clumsily brought down by Rene Aufhauser and Modric converted the spot kick straight down the middle.
The goal immediately settled the Croatians, whose neat-passing midfielders began coolly knocking the ball around.
Olic and Mladen Petric both went close to touching in a second after a dangerous low Darijo Srna free kick, before Petric, unmarked in the area, blasted wide after a deep cross from Vedran Corluka.
Austria looked shell-shocked by the early setback and only late in the half did they build any sort of attacking pressure, their best effort coming when Joachim Standfest steered a header just over the bar.
The home side were more positive after the break, pinning Croatia back for long periods and swinging in some dangerous crosses. But a poor final ball too often let them down.
The introduction of Umit Korkmaz for the last 20 minutes added some bite to the Austrian attack as they built to a rousing finale, but Croatia held out.