Born-again Klasnić back in the groove

Ivan Klasnić was left to reflect on "a new lease of footballing life" after his solitary strike ensured Croatia advanced to the quarter-finals with a 100 per cent record.

Kidney transplants
With Croatia's progress as Group B winners already assured, coach Slaven Bilić was able to rest the bulk of his regular starters for the encounter with Poland, but the players that came in did not disappoint with Klasnić particularly impressive. The 28-year-old only returned to international football in March after undergoing two kidney transplants in 2007 and, handed his first start of the tournament, he responded with a Carlsberg Man of the Match performance, netting the only goal eight minutes after half-time. "I'm happy just to be playing football again," said the Werder Bremen man. "I said before this game that I felt as though I have been give a new lease of footballing life, a second life, so what happened today feels like a dream to me.

Strength in depth
"Some journalists said that we are the reserve team and that we just fool around in training but I think we have shown that even after not playing in the other two games we can do well," continued Klasnić, whose goal and all-round performance earned him special praise from Bilić. The Croatia coach said: "What can I say? We all prayed for him [during his health problems] but he had very strong faith throughout. Now he's not only healthy but he is a top player. He was Werder Bremen's top scorer [last season] in one of the strongest leagues in the world. It's the perfect success story."

Decisive goal
There was further praise from Roy Hodgson, one of the nine experts on the UEFA Technical Team, who selected Klasnić as the best player on the night. "There were lots of good candidates from Croatia and you could quite easily have chosen any of the forwards or midfielders, but we decided on Klasnić because he scored the decisive goal," said the Fulham FC manager. "He also forced two great saves from Artur Boruc and worked very hard throughout the game."