Harry Kewell’s late equaliser sent Australia through to the second round after a dramatic Group F decider.
Australia twice came from behind to secure the point that earns them an encounter with Italy in the last 16.
Darijo Srna’s precise free-kick gave Croatia an early lead. Australia were level through Craig Moore’s penalty after Stjepan Tomas handled a cross, but Croatia hit back and went ahead due to a terrible blunder from stand-in keeper who let Nico Kovac’s weak shot through his hands. However, Kewell fired home the equaliser ten minutes from time to take the Socceroos through.
The game was marred late on by the dismissals of Croatia’s Josip Simunic and Dario Simic along with Australia’s Brett Emerton in the dying minutes.
The draw was the least Australia deserved, as they dominated the match but found Stipe Pletikosa in inspired form.
Guus Hiddink chose to omit Mark Schwarzer in favour of Kalac, and it was a decision the coach almost came to regret.
The keeper’s first job was to pick the ball out of the net after Srna curled home an unstoppable free-kick from the edge of the area to give Croatia the lead after just two minutes.
At the other end, Kovac made superb blocks to deny Scott Chipperfield and Jason Culina, while Kewell fired a shot wide from 20 yards.
Australia continued to force the pace and were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty when Mark Viduka was hauled to the ground. Shortly afterwards though, they were awarded a spot-kick when Tomas inexplicably raised his hand at a cross and referee Graham Poll pointed to the spot. Up stepped Craig Moore to send the keeper the wrong way and Australia were level.
After the break, both teams went in search of the winner that would guarantee them a place in the next round.
Cahill did well to clear a swerving free kick from Srna, but the Australians seemed in control of the match until a huge blunder by Kalac handed Croatia the lead.
Nico Kovac didn’t strike his shot cleanly, but Kalac failed to gather his tame effort and the ball rolled over his hands into the back of the net.
Australia piled men forward at the other end, and Hiddink responded to the setback by sending on extra strikers.
Kewell thought he had levelled after being set up by Viduka, but the Liverpool winger could only watch and admire as Pletikosa pulled off a superb reflex save following his powerful drive from eight yards.
Tomas, who was responsible for the first penalty, should have conceded a second when he again handled the ball but referee Graham Poll opted to award a corner.
However, Australia were not to be denied and with 12 minutes remaining Kewell arrived at the far post to fire them into the second round.
The game finished on a sour note as Dario Simic was dismissed for a second caution.
There was still time for more drama, as Igor Tudor had a shot blocked when he looked certain to score, while Brett Emerton was also dismissed for a second yellow card three minutes from time.
Simunic was booked a second time, but Poll seemingly forgot that he had already shown the player the yellow card. However, his reprieve was short-lived as Poll showed the player a third yellow on the stroke of full time.
It was a dramatic, at times breathless match, but Australia, had offered much more going forward and fully deserved to take their place in the knockout stages.
Croatia: Pletikosa, Simic, Tudor, Tomas, Simunic, Srna, Nico Kovac, Babic, Kranjcar, Prso, Olic.
Subs used: Leko 65 (for Kranjcar), Modric 73 (for Olic), Klasnic 84 (for Tomas).
Bookings: Simic 32, Tudor 38, Simunic 62, Pletikosa 70
Sent-off: Simic 85, Simunic 90.
Australia: Kalac, Neill, Moore, Chipperfield, Emerton, Grella, Culina, Cahill, Sterjovski, Kewell, Viduka.
Subs used: Aloisi 63 (for Grella), Bresciano 71 (for Sterjovski), Kennedy 75 (for Chipperfield).
Bookings: Emerton 81
Sent-off: Emerton 87
Referee: Graham Poll (England)
Croatia: Srna 2, N Kovac 57
Australia: Moore (pen) 39, Kewell 79