Croatia rested a host of players yet still proved too strong for Poland as they won 1-0 in Klagenfurt to finish on maximum points in Group B and confirm their opponents' early exit.
Ivan Klasnić scored the winner early in the second half at the Wörthersee Stadion to end another defiant show from goalkeeper Artur Boruc and further boost Croatia's confidence before they tackle Turkey in the quarter-finals. Poland's slim qualifying hopes rested on at least a two-goal victory here and a win for Austria over Germany, and neither came off as Michael Ballack struck the only goal in Vienna.
Poland needed goals so it was something of a surprise that Leo Beenhakker chose to omit Euzebiusz Smolarek, whose marksmanship played a big part in securing qualification to UEFA EURO 2008 as group winners ahead of Portugal. The coach also left out defender Jacek Bąk who had been hoping to make his 97th appearance. As expected, Slaven Bilić made wholesale changes to the Croatia team with only two players retained from the starting XI who had conjured the famous victory over Germany.
One of those was left-back Danijel Pranjić and when he made an early forward raid it left a gap which Poland were quick to exploit. Marek Saganowski headed on for Wojciech Łobodziński whose cross brought goalkeeper Vedran Runje out to clear, injuring Dario Knežević in the process. Although the right-back played on after treatment, he was eventually forced off in the 27th minute.
By that stage Croatia were taking a firm grip on proceedings and only the brilliance of Boruc kept the score at 0-0. Mladen Petrić played Klasnić in but out came the Poland No1 to make another of those blocks that so frustrated Austria four days ago. From a difficult angle, Ivan Rakitić then found Boruc in the way as he attempted to clip the ball across into the area.
After a promising start in which Dariusz Dudka got up well to meet a corner only to place his header wide, Poland were largely on the back foot. On the stroke of half-time Boruc came to the rescue again after Klasnić had skilfully worked an opening. In the 53rd minute Klasnić at last got the better of him.
The architect was Pranjić and when he picked out the striker in the penalty area, Klasnić stylishly whipped the ball back across Boruc and into the far corner. Despite the introduction of Smolarek, things remained relatively easy for Croatia's defence with Dario Šimić, winning his 99th cap, also looking to attack from right-back when the opportunity presented itself.
A smart turn from Roger Guerreiro almost brought Poland back into the contest but he was narrowly wide of the mark. It was a rare moment of hope for the massed ranks of their supporters seated behind the Croatia goal, though another arrived soon after when Marcin Wasilewski's header forced Runje to stretch.
Bilić could afford to give Nikola Kalinić his first run-out at the tournament and only his second cap late on, although Poland did threaten parity when Smolarek fired just wide and substitute Tomasz Zahorski saw a great opening closed by the diving Runje.