Given the improbability of Poland progressing, this was not a contest that gripped the imagination – until Ivan Klasnic intervened. The 28-year-old Croatia striker underwent two kidney transplants last year, his body rejecting an organ from his mother before accepting one from his father. He was warned by his doctor that he was putting his life on the line by returning to football. Last night he scored the only goal on his debut in the European Championship.
Klasnic plays with a fibreglass shield around his middle but he has scored for his club – Werder Bremen, whom he leaves this summer – and his country in a remarkable comeback. "I'm happy to play football again," he said. "This is a new football life to me. A second life. It's like a dream."
This tournament has also been like a dream for Croatia's coach, Slaven Bilic. He rightly hailed Klasnic, a committed Christian. "We all prayed for him and he had very strong faith throughout," Bilic said. "We called him but he encouraged us. It's a perfect success story."
The England manager, Fabio Capello, chose to miss this match, reasoning that with nine changes made by Croatia, who had already won the group, he would not see their first-choice side. If he had been here he would have seen that his team's World Cup opponents have strength in depth and spirit at which they can only marvel.
Without Artur Boruc, who pulled off a string of saves, Croatia would have been out of sight by half-time. After Hrvoje Vejic steered a header wide, the Celtic goalkeeper twice blocked from Klasnic. He also beat out a cross-shot from Danijel Pranjic and foiled Ivan Rakitic.
The Poles fell behind when Klasnic was sent tumbling but recovered to meet Pranjic's cut-back and sweep the ball beyond Boruc. He soon left, to an ovation, and Poland had chances. Roger Guerreiro swivelled and slid a shot wide before Vedran Runje held Marek Saganowski's header. The stand-in goalkeeper did even better to deny Tomasz Zahorski.
Poland's coach, Leo Beenhakker, was asked about his future. "Many of you get excited about it so I wish you a good time," the 65-year-old Dutchman said. He was keener to talk about Croatia. "They are the outsider No 1," he said. "They are very dangerous." Even their second XI.
Poland (4-2-3-1): Boruc (Celtic); Wasilewski (Anderlecht), Dudka (Wisla Krakow), Zewlakow (Olympiakos), Wawrzyniak (Legia Warsaw); Lewandowski (Shakhtar Donetsk), Murawski (Lech Poznan); Lobodzinski (Wilsaw Krakow), Guerreiro (Legia Warsaw), Krzynowek (Wolfsburg); Saganowski (Southampton). Substitutes used: Kokoszka (Wisla Krakow) for Lewandowski, 46; Smolarek (Racing Santander) for Lobodzinski, 55; Zahorski (Gornik Zaberze) for Saganowski, 68.
Croatia (4-4-2): Runje (Lens); Simic (Milan), Vejic (Tom Tomsk), Knezevic (Livorno), Pranjic (Heerenveen); Leko (Monaco), Pokrivac (Monaco), Vukojevic (Dynamo Zagreb), Rakitic (Schalke); Petric (Borussia Dortmund), Klasnic (Werder Bremen). Substitutes used: Corluka (Manchester City) for Knezevic, 27; Kalinic (Hajduk Split) for Klasnic, 75; Kranjcar (Portsmouth) for Petric, 75.
Referee: K Vassaras (Greece).
Booked: Poland Lewandowski, Zahorski; Croatia Vejic, Vukojevic.
Man of the match: Boruc.Reuse content