Austria late show earns a point
Croatian-born Austrian player of the year Ivica Vastic became the oldest scorer in EURO history as he converted an injury-time penalty to give the co-hosts a 1-1 draw with Poland and ironically send his Croatia compatriots into the EURO 2008 quarter-finals.
The 38-year-old - who also scored the last time Austria appeared
in a major finals at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France - slotted
home to keep Austrian hopes alive of making the quarter-finals,
though they will have to beat Germany to do so.
"We had many chances tonight (Thursday) without converting them," said Vastic. "But as one saw the most difficult thing to do is to score goals.
"It is now all down to the Germany match and it is vital we have stronger nerve than our opponents."
Austrian coach Josef Hickersberger believed that justice had been done.
"The Poles really had their backs to the wall in the first-half and we should have been 2-0 up but we just didn't score," said Hickersberger, who is in his second spell as national coach.
"But the team reacted really well after falling 1-0 behind to a goal that was offside," he added. "The sport of football is not always about justice: when the referee decides on something, it is like he is God."
The Poles, who were incredulous at English referee Howard Webb's decision, had earlier taken the lead through 26-year-old Brazilian-born striker Roger Guerreiro, who only became a naturalised Pole in March.
Poland's veteran Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker had been apoplectic at Webb's decision but the 65-year-old had calmed down enough afterwards to make an honest assessment of the Poles chances of making the last eight.
"I am happy with my boys, I cannot reproach them for anything. But I don't believe that we have a chance of qualifying. If we had won today (Thursday) then yes, but now...." mused the former Holland and Trinidad and Tobago coach.
The Austrians started brightly with captain Andreas Ivanschitz having two shots at goal, one sailing harmlessly wide while his 32 metres freekick didn't pose a problem for Polish 'keeper Artur Boruc.
However, Boruc had to be at his best in the 11th minute as a poor backpass by a Polish defender released Austria's Martin Harnik, who raced clear but his shot into the far corner was deflected by the Celtic keeper for a corner.
Boruc did even better two minutes later as Vmit Korkmaz put in a great pass into the penalty area but Harnik again had his shot saved by Boruc with his legs failing to add to his international haul of two goals.
The Polish guardian was again equal to the task a few minutes later as with the Poland defence in disarray Christoph Leitgeb ran onto a beautifully weighted pass but his shot was again saved by Boruc.
The Poles - looking nothing like a side that finished above Portugal in their qualifying group - took over 20 minutes to even force a corner and after repelling another Austrian attack they hit the co-hosts with a real sucker punch.
Marek Saganowski controlled the ball after a brilliant cross from Euzebiusz 'Ebi' Smolarek inside the penalty area and managed to get his pass past the outstretched hand of Jurgen Macho and the boot of Austria's Middlesbrough defender Emmanuel Pogatetz, for Guerreiro to slot it into the net, though he looked to be offside.
The goal provoked a rueful smile from Austrian coach Josef Hickersberger and a shake of the head while his players heads went down.
Unsurprisingly, Poland's veteran Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker had seen enough of Mariusz Jop at centreback and took him off at half-time as he tried to shore up his defence.
The Austrians thought they should have had a penalty in the 48th minute as Ivanschitz went down in the box under a challenge from Pawel Golanski but Webb waved aside the Austrian captain's appeals and it clearly looked as if he had dived.
Poland had a bit of wind in their sails and the impressive Smolarek surged onto a great ball by Guerreiro turned the defender and forced a bit of a fumbled save from Macho.
Macho was more alert in saving his side from going two down just after the hour mark as he got down smartly and blocked Polish captain Jacek Bak's shot with his legs, and got up to beat away a follow up shot by Mariusz Lewandowski.
Hickersberger decided to ring the changes at that point and somewhat surprisingly took off Ivanschitz and Roland Linz and sent on 38-year-old veteran Vastic and Roman Kienaast.
However, it was the Poles who had the next effort on goal with a fierce freekick by Jacek Krzynowek, which was tipped over the bar brilliantly by Macho.
The Austrians rarely troubled the Polish defence or indeed the magisterial Boruc with just Sebastian Prodl - who is suspended for the next match with the Germans - getting anywhere near the target with a header 10 minutes from time that went past the post.
It took Vastic to break the Poles' hearts.