Croatia coach Slaven Bilic spoke of his pride after seeing his much-changed side continue their 100% record at Euro 2008 with a 1-0 win over Poland in Klagenfurt.
With Croatia already guaranteed top spot in Group B following victories over Austria and Germany, Bilic opted to shuffle his pack for their final pool match but the newcomers did not disappoint their coach, putting on a convincing display.
Ivan Klasnic struck the only goal of the game just after half-time, but Croatia had much the better of the opportunities during the 90 minutes and could have enjoyed a more convincing winning scoreline.
A delighted Bilic said: “We are proud for several reasons, firstly it’s a great achievement to win three games in a row, especially at a European Championships. We certainly aren’t the first to do it, but there haven’t been many before us.
“I want to congratulate my players, we played fabulously. We were right that these (fringe) guys could play superbly. They all do that in training, but still they played very well here.”
Croatia had to wait until the 52nd minute to make the breakthrough, but that was mainly down to the fine first-half display from Poland goalkeeper Artur Boruc.
The Celtic custodian produced a string of fine saves, including denying Klasnic twice when the Croatia striker was clean through.
“If Boruc hadn’t been such an excellent goalkeeper in the first half we could have been two goals ahead at half-time,” said Bilic. “The only time the Poles threatened our goal, (Vedran) Runje did an excellent job.”
However, Bilic denied that Poland were a comfortable opponent for his new-look side, despite the fact that Leo Beenhakker’s side ended the tournament with just one point from their three games.
“They were not an easy opponent, they were tough and they were well organised,” said the Croatia coach.
“They were not easy for the Germans or Austrians. We did not win because the Poles were bad but because we played an excellent match. I am sure this is the victory of a great Croatian team and not the defeat of a bad Poland team.”
Croatia will now meet Turkey in the last eight, but Bilic was loathe to talk too much about that game, saying: “I’m not willing to speak about the quarter-finals yet, lets speak about this match. We prepared for this life as if our lives depended on it.
“The quarter-final is just another match, even though the stakes are higher. We don’t lack motivation.”
Defeated coach Beenhakker held little back in his appraisal of Poland’s performances during Euro 2008, admitting they were simply not good enough.
Poland reached their first European Championship finals after finishing top of their qualifying group, ahead of the likes of Portugal, Serbia and Finland.
However, it was a disappointing story in Austria and Switzerland with defeats against Germany and Croatia, and only their 1-1 draw with co-hosts Austria to show for their efforts.
“We have tried, but it was not enough,” said Beenhakker.
“You can imagine that everybody is very disappointed because we had a lot of ambition to do better and that was a realist thing because we showed in most of the qualification matches that we can do a lot better.
“But I have to say that during the tournament that we were not good enough.
“Several important players for us were not in the best shape, the best form. That can happen sometimes, the moment when it happens can be unlucky.
“We had a big dream of doing well here, but over the three matches, apart from some unlucky moments, we were not good enough to handle this level.
“The only thing to do is go back to the training pitch and practice to compete at this level.”