ROAD TO KOREA/JAPAN
|Croatia remained undefeated in the UEFA
group 6 and beat Belgium by a single point to win the group.
here for details
|Davor Suker, now 34, was topscorer of the
last World Cup, but is not considered likely to repeat that feat this summer. On the other side,
it's dangerous to write off old goalscoring heroes. They might blossom on the big occasion.
VERDICT: Through to KO stage
|The race is tough behind Italy for that other qualification
spot for the second round, but Croatia seem to have the tiny edge in front of Ecuador and Mexico. The bronzemedalists
from four years ago are still capable of advancing despite ageing stars. New talents have emerged since 1998
and we believe they will show teeth in this World Cup.
OLD HEROES ARE BACK AGAIN
by Paul Marcuccitti
Croatia's players and supporters would be delighted if their team can come
close to replicating its excellent performance of four years ago. Many of
the stars of 1998 look set to feature again: the speedy Robert Jarni;
Chelsea midfielder/forward, Mario Stanic; the reliable Zvonimir Soldo; and
strikers Goran Vlaovic and Davor Suker.
Add in the likes of Juventus' Igor Tudor - an up and coming player at France
98 but now a highly accomplished defender - and Alen Boksic, who was sadly
missing four years ago, and you have a team which appears to have genuine
ambitions to progress to the latter stages of the tournament.
On the debit side, a number of the players that Croatia will be relying on
are at the latter end of their careers. Jarni, Suker, Boksic and Robert
Prosinecki (now playing in England at Division One Portsmouth) are now in
their 30s and Stanic and Vlaovic turn 30 this year.
Croatia also goes into this World Cup without legendary coach, Miroslav
Blazevic. But thus far, his replacement Mirko Jozic - a former youth coach
of Yugoslavia - has guided the team admirably. The Croats qualified
impressively and he will be aware that the biggest test of his career awaits
Is this Croatian team past its peak? Or will the experience of the older
players prove advantageous?
Croatia's performance in the qualifiers would suggest the latter. Despite a
slow start and having Belgium and Scotland - two far from negligible teams -
for company, the Croats won their group. In the process, they went through
their eight games undefeated and conceded only two goals. Striker Bosko
Balaban was his country's top scorer with five goals (including a hat-trick
against Latvia) and it was Boksic who scored the winner in the decisive
final group match against Belgium.
The draw hasn't been too unkind to the Croats. Though they were unlucky not
to be seeded and have the Italians to contend with in Group G, they will (at
the very least) see a route past Ecuador and Mexico. If Croatia advances,
its Round of 16 game will be against a team from Group D (South
Most pundits would consider that a quarter-final appearance - or better -
would represent an excellent result for this team. The Croats would
certainly be disappointed if they flew out on the first plane home.
If any combination of Vlaovic, Balaban, Boksic and Suker can find the back
of the net, Croatia can be confident that its excellent defensive players
(like Jarni, Soldo and Tudor) will put up stiff resistance to opposing
Croatia's main weakness could be an over reliance on midfielder, Robert
Prosinecki. There is no doubt that he is a very gifted player and that he
has plenty of experience (he even played for Yugoslavia in the 1990 finals
in Italy). Unfortunately, a combination of injuries and advancing years have
taken their toll on the creative playmaker.
Coach, Mirko Jozic, has admitted that his midfield depends on Prosinecki and
that he's looking for alternatives. He has floated the idea of dropping
Suker into the midfield and Lecce's Davor Vugrinec could be another option.
So the goal scorers are there and the defence looks sound. The biggest
question seems to be whether or not Croatia has enough creativity in its
midfield. If the team struggles in that department, there could be added
pressure on Jarni and co to push forward.
Croatia's supporters can feel confident that Jozic, a real team builder,
will find the best combination. He is an experienced coach who has had
international success at youth level and he also had a distinguished spell
at club level in South America. Jozic is a realist and he will know that a
repeat semi-final showing may be beyond his team.
But it won't stop him trying.
A BRIEF WORLD CUP HISTORY
by Jan Alsos
Croatia’s World Cup history is short, but successful. Their only
finals appearance in 1998 brought bronzemedals including wins over such powerful countries
as Germany and Holland. No one doubted their qualities before the World Cup, but a
semifinal place exceeded all expectations. Davor Suker ended up as topscorer of the
tournament, but Prosinecki, Boban and Jarni also had some great weeks in France.
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