Croats cruise to 4-1 win over Austria

May 23, 2006

VIENNA, May 23 (Reuters) - Croatia began their World Cup preparations with a comfortable 4-1 away win over Austria on Tuesday.

Undefeated throughout their World Cup qualifying campaign, Croatia set up their latest victory with two first half goals from Werder Bremen striker Ivan Klasnic.

Second half strikes from Marko Babic and Bosko Balaban sealed an assured performance by Zlatko Kranjcar's team.

'I am very happy with the way we played,' Kranjcar told Austrian television.

'At the start at least we were up against a very well-organised defence, yet we managed to break it down with some good individual skills and also by converting the few chances that came our way.'

Klasnic put Croatia ahead after 11 minutes, following a fluid build-up involving strike partner Dado Prso and midfielder Babic.

Austria, who failed to qualify for the World Cup finals, grabbed a bizarre equaliser just three minutes later when captain Andreas Ivanschitz scored directly from a corner kick.

Still fighting for a place in Croatia's starting line-up, goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa grabbed the ball only to carry it back over his line.

Klasnic restored the visitors' lead 10 minutes before the break, however, this time with a solo effort -- beating three Austria defenders before rounding goalkeeper Helge Payer.

Kranjcar's decision to substitute Klasnic at half-time did little to blunt the Croatian attack, with Babic scoring his side's third goal 10 minutes after the restart with a shot deflected in off Austria's Paul Scharner.

Balaban, a 57th minute substitute, completed the rout with a well-struck free kick in the 69th minute.

Croatia play their opening World Cup game against champions Brazil on June 13. Australia and Japan are the other teams in Group F.