No reward for spirited Austria against Croatia In Euro 2008 (Lead)

June 9th, 2008 - 3:25 am ICT by IANS  

Vienna, June 9 (DPA) Euro 2008 co-hosts Austria kicked off their campaign Sunday with an undeserved 1-0 defeat at home in Vienna to Croatia, in the first Group B game. Croatia were technically superior to Josef Hickersberger’s team, but were relieved to hear the final whistle after surviving a spirited second-half Austrian frontal assault.

The visitors were superior in the first half, but were pushed back in the second by the valiant though limited Austrians.

Austria made a nervous start, as if overwhelmed by the responsibility of being hosts - and aware of their own technical inferiority.

Hickersberger started with a cautiously defensive formation. However, his plans went up in smoke after just four minutes, when Luka Modric opened the scoring from the penalty spot after Rene Aufhauser had clumsily clattered into Croatia striker Ivica Olic.

Croatia should have put Austria out of their misery in the first half, but Olic and Mladen Petric squandered good chances.

Austria slowly came out of their defensive shell but could only create danger with free-kicks and high centres.

Austria continued their direct assault in the second half, livening up the capacity crowd in the Ernst Happel Stadion with a series of corners and goalmouth scrambles.

The ageless Ivica Vastic came off the bench in the second half to finally give the Austrian attack a touch of quality.

Fellow sub Umit Korkmaz forced a sharp save out of Croatia keeper Stipe Pletikosa with just four minutes left.

In stoppage time, with tired Croatia desperate to hear the whistle, Roman Kienast glanced a high header just wide of Pletikosa’s far post.

A draw would have been a fairer result than a Croatia win.

Austrian defender Martin Stranzl said that they still believed they stood a chance to advance to the next round. “We played very well after starting poorly.

“We were very nervous at first, but then came into the game. Unfortunately, we failed to score. We are now under pressure to win our next two matches.”

Now Hickersberger will have to work hard to restore morale ahead of Austria’s games against Poland and Germany.

Croatia’s Robert Kovac said that “I think we deserved to win, because we created the clearer chances throughout the game”.

The Dortmund defender added that “things were a bit hectic towards the end, but we showed a lot of character to hold on”.

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