Stipe Pletikosa drew parallels with Croatia's memorable run to the 1998 FIFA World Cup semi-finals after it took his Carlsberg Man of the Match performance to earn his side three points against Austria in Vienna.
A decade ago Croatia's 'golden generation' – featuring such names as Davor Šuker, Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinečki, Robert Jarni and current coach Slaven Bilić – took third place at the World Cup in France. That achievement seemed quite unlikely when they were struggling to a 3-1 win against unfancied Jamaica in their opening game - a thought that came to mind for Pletikosa as he discussed Sunday's hard-fought victory at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion. "If you remember our golden generation at World Cup '98, their first game against Jamaica wasn't that easy," said the goalkeeper. "But I think we can improve and play better football in our next matches. Tonight we didn't play the best – we were lucky – but the most important thing is the three points."
Those three points hung in the balance in the closing stages of the Group B curtain-raiser. Three times in the last 15 minutes Pletikosa denied Ivica Vastic, but it was his full-length stop to foil another Austria substitute, Ümit Korkmaz, with four minutes remaining that most impressed Jean-Paul Brigger, a member of UEFA's Technical Study Team, who added: "He made five or six excellent saves and made a significant contribution for his team. At times Croatia were under a lot of pressure but he was always strong at the back. Austria created chances but at the end the goalkeeper and the Croatia back line were the difference."
Indeed, while it was Pletikosa that took the Man of the Match award he was keen to share the credit with those playing in front of him. "The last line of defence, Robert Kovač and Josip Šimunić, reacted very well on occasions and the whole team did a good job," said the 29-year-old. "When we had to defend, we weren't able to then get into counterattacking positions due to the dryness of the pitch. But we are extremely happy because we have earned three points and now we have to think about the Germany game and forget all about this match." Croatia did that with some success ten years ago.
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