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Sports

Fourth Minute Penalty Sees Croatia Scrape Past Resilient Austria

Luka Modric's fourth minute penalty gave Croatia victory over Austria in Vienna Sunday, June 8 but Slaven Bilic's much-fancied side had to survive long periods of Austrian dominance before the win was theirs.

Croatia's Luka Modric, right, reacts after scoring during the group B match between Austria and Croatia in Vienna, Austria, Sunday, June 8, 2008

Modric's (no. 14) spot-kick did not bring the flood of goals some commentators expected

Euro 2008 co-hosts Austria kicked off their campaign with an undeserved 1-0 defeat at home in Vienna to Croatia on Sunday, 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.

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

Hickerersberger started with a cautious 5-4-1 formation.

Penalty adds to Austrian nerves

Croatia's Ivica Olic, right, challenges for the ball with Austria's Emanuel Pogatetz, center, and Juergen Saeumel

Far from imploding, Austria pushed Croatia all the way

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 centers.

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.

Chances come thick and fast

Croatia's Luka Modric, second from left, celebrates with fellow team members after scoring

Croatia failed to add to their early opener

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.

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