For the fourth year running Croatia missed out on the UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals on the last day of the elite round, despite their victory against Austria.
Goals from Jozo Šimunović and Dino Špehar gave Croatia victory after two Group 2 scoreless draws, and maintained their unbeaten record in this season's competition. But the Netherlands, the section hosts, beat Portugal 1-0 to maintain their two-point lead over the Balkan side and qualify for the finals.
Austria started the day in second place, a point behind the Netherlands but one ahead of Croatia, and they almost grabbed the lead towards the end of an even first half when their captain Christian Gartner curled a free-kick over the wall and on to the left-hand post. Croatia's main threat during the first 40 minutes was Kruno Ivančić, who was given a roaming role as the lone striker and caused plenty of confusion in the Austria defence.
Following the break, Croatia goalkeeper Ivan Banić made two saves in succession to deny Christoph Martschinko and then Marcel Sabitzer as Austria carried on from where they had left off in the first half. But those two near misses prompted Croatia into action and Ivan Jakov Džoni headed wide at the far post with almost an open goal to aim at.
In the 57th minute, Ivan Gudelj's team went ahead. Šimunović pounced on a loose ball inside the penalty area and thrashed his shot into the roof of the net from close range. Špehar then sealed the win ten minutes from time with a simple tap-in after Ivančić had pounced on a slip in the Austria defence to create a two against one situation, but Croatia's victory proved in vain.
Croatia coach Ivan Gudelj said: "We have been a bit unlucky. We have not conceded a single goal, yet but we did not score in our first two games and this has cost us. That's football, unfortunately. The first half was not up to our usual standards, but we played well in the second half and showed all of our true ability. We could have even scored more.
His opposite number Thomas Janeschitz added: "We committed some individual errors and when you are playing in a group like this, you get punished for it. We have presented ourselves well and we will learn from this."
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