Croatia will return to the UEFA European Under-19 Championship after making the most of home advantage to finish first in elite round Group 6 ahead of Georgia and Austria.
Semi-finalists on their finals debut in 2010, Croatia had opened their campaign with a dramatic encounter against Austria, taking an eighth-minute lead through Marko Dugandžić. Although goals from Toni Vastic (48) and Thomas Murg (75) turned the game in Austria's favour, they lost Stefan Petrovic to an 80th-minute red card and Croatia capitalised with two minutes left, Dugandžić snatching a point with his second goal of the game.
Georgia, meanwhile, opened with a thrilling 4-2 win against Bosnia and Herzegovina, with all but one of the goals coming in the first half. Marko Maletić struck twice for the Bosnians but Valeri Kazaishvili (24) and Giorgi Chanturia (35) were on target for Georgia, whose win was secured by a goal in each half from Davit Skhirtladze.
Georgia's campaign came unstuck in their second fixture, however, Otar Korgalidze's team powerless to hold Croatia in check with Marko Pajač (25), Dugandžić (58) and Ante Rebić (67) securing the points before Giorgi Gagnidze got a goal back in stoppage time. Austria joined the Croatians on four points thanks to second-half goals from Murg (59, penalty) and Vastic (84) that saw off Bosnia and Herzegovina.
However, Austria's hopes of reaching the finals suffered a serious knock when Lukas Spendlhofer was dismissed in conceding the penalty from which Giorgi Chanturia gave Georgia a 40th-minute lead in the final round of matches. Though Vastic equalised six minutes into the second half, Chanturia's second in the 68th minute left Georgia waiting for news of Croatia's result.
Dinko Jeličić's team took charge against Bosnia and Herzegovina thanks to Ante Rebić's opener in the 25th minute with substitute Antonio Mirko Čolak doubling the lead 18 minutes from time. Croatia held on for the decisive victory despite losing captain Filip Mrzljak to a late red card and will enter the finals draw on 6 June.
The coach was delighted to progress and warned that his side are going to the final tournament in Estonia with the intention of returning with the trophy. "This is great," said Jeličić. "We played three great games. We deserve to be in the finals but we will not be going to Estonia just as tourists." Captain Mrzljak echoed those sentiments. "We are good team and we know we have chance in the finals," said the midfielder. "We want to go to Estonia tomorrow. We showed the best of us and the whole team secured our place in the finals."
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