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Croatia bowed out of the UEFA European Under-19 Championship despite concluding their Group B campaign with an impressive defeat of Serbia – although the result did give them the consolation of a place at the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Having taken just one point from their first two games, Dinko Jeličić's side needed to beat Serbia and hope England lost to already-qualified France in the section's other matchday three game. However, while Croatia kept their part of the bargain as Domagoj Pavičić's early effort was added to be Mihael Pongračić's double shortly after half-time, England's 2-1 victory against France ended their European challenge, and they will have to be content with an appearance at next year's world event in Turkey.
Croatian hopes received an early fillip as they broke through in the second minute. Antonio Mirko Čolak received a pass deep on the left and found Pavičić with a short pass; the finish was unerring.
Serbia responded strongly, however, and had the better of the remainder of the first half with Nikola Ninković twice going close. First he broke into the box with a fine dribble only to flash a shot wide; then his fine 20-metre effort came back off the right post.
Once again, however, Croatia took little time to score as the second half got under way. Four minutes after the restart Ivan Aleksić sent in a perfect cross from the left and Pongračić doubled the lead with a well-judged header. This time Croatia kept up the pressure and three minutes before the hour Dejan Čabraja found space on the left; his low pass presented the unmarked Pongračić with a simple finish.
Serbian heads refused to drop, however, with Ninković working tirelessly; once more he was denied by the woodwork, his 69th-minute effort again hitting the post. Croatia, though, held out in some comfort, leaving Serbia to head home having lost all three games.
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