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World Cup: One tough opening act for the Croats

herceg_jadran2010-05-10 12:17:32 +0000 #1
World Cup: One tough opening act

01/01/2006

By ROB SMAAL, Staff Writer

Talk about a nightmare start.

As a kid, your mom probably always told you to clean off your dinner plate--at least I know mine did. The most effective strategy seemed to be to start with the nasty stuff first, i.e., try to force down the Brussels sprouts and cauliflower before moving on to the mashed potatoes, roast beef and gravy.

In June, Croatia's national soccer team and its fans will be using this strategy as well, only not by choice. On Dec. 9, in the German town of Leipzig, the Croats were unfortunate enough to be drawn to face Brazil, the defending World Cup champion and an overwhelming favorite to lift the 2006 title, in the opening match for both sides.

When the teams square off on June 13 in Berlin, the eyes of the soccer world will be watching. Is Brazil once again the team to beat? Can these upstart Croats pull off a shocker? Is there an Italian restaurant somewhere in town missing 11 tablecloths?

But other than that tough opening act, the red-and-white-clad Croatians will have a very realistic chance of advancing to the round of 16. Croatia--not even recognized as an independent nation until 1992 and a 50-1 outsider to win this World Cup--brings a fairly impressive international resume to Germany. The country is playing in its third consecutive World Cup finals after topping qualifying Group 8, going unbeaten with seven wins in 10 matches in a tough group also featuring Sweden, Bulgaria and Hungary.

In the 1998 finals in France, Croatia surprised many by making it to the semifinals, riding the hot boot of scoring sensation Davor Suker. Other stars also stepped up back then, like Zvonimar Boban, Robert Prosinecki, Robert Jarni and Igor Stimac, who had all played together on Yugoslavia's World Youth Championship-winning team in 1987. They eventually finished third, beating the powerful Dutch team 2-1 in a consolation playoff match.

Four years later in Japan-South Korea things didn't turn out quite as well. The Croats were able to beat Italy, but fell to Mexico and Ecuador to bow out after the opening stage.

While perhaps not quite as strong as that '98 squad, this edition of the Croatian team also appears to have quality players at almost every position. The Croats, who have a nice mix of youth and experience, are also an extremely hard-working side. In the past, the team may have been guilty of relying too heavily on older players, but that does not seem to be the case this time around.

In Germany, coach Zlatko Kranjcar's men will consider it a major disappointment if they fail to make the second stage.

"I think we ended up in a rather satisfying group," Kranjcar said after the World Cup draw in Leipzig. "Of course, Brazil is the favorite, but we managed to draw with them (1-1 in Split) in a friendly this year and that shows we are not without chances against them.

"I believe we're better than Australia and Japan is also beatable. Altogether, I can say that our performance in qualifying gives us the right to be optimistic before the World Cup finals."

Leading the charge on the field will be a player Kranjcar is very familiar with--rising star Niko Kranjcar, a central midfield dynamo who also happens to be the coach's son. Other family ties on the squad include German-born brothers Niko and Robert Kovac.

Veteran Igor Tudor provides a steadying influence on the team, while wing-backs Darijo Srna and Marko Babic are never shy when it comes to providing a little offense. Up front is striking star Dado Prso, who led the team with five goals in its qualifying campaign.

Ivan Klasnic, a 25-year-old striker who has been burning up the Bundesliga with his club team Werder Bremen, will be right at home at the World Cup. Not only does he play professionally there, but he was born in the German city of Hamburg. He even turned down an offer to play for Germany internationally in favor of his ancestral homeland.

Klasnic has overcome some erratic play and a couple of knee injuries to become one of the most dangerous strikers in the Bundesliga.

Three members of the Croatian squad--defender Josip Simunic, midfielder Ante Seric and goalkeeper Joe Didulica--were born and raised in Australia, but are of Croatian heritage. Another striker, naturalized Brazilian Eduardo da Silva, will likely be an option in Germany.

After Brazil, the multi-national Croatians take on Japan in Nuremberg on June 18 and then play Australia four days later in Stuttgart.

"The (match against Australia) will be unusual, considering the presumed clash of loyalties, but I'm sure there will be no love lost when we meet," Kranjcar told The Associated Press.

Croatia has played Australia four times, including handing out a 7-0 thrashing to the Socceroos in a warm-up match ahead of the 1998 World Cup. During a 1992 tour of Australia, however, Croatia lost twice and drew once.

Croatia, which was in the same group as Japan at the '98 World Cup, beat the Japanese 1-0 in France. The previous year, Japan scored a 4-3 win over the Croats in a Kirin Cup match played in Tokyo.

Even though the skillful Croats, currently 20th in the FIFA world rankings, are favored by many to accompany Brazil through to the second round, Simunic is taking nothing for granted.

"Australia is a big threat--I see both (the Socceroos and Japan) as dangerous, but more so Australia because a lot of their players are playing in Europe," Simunic told the Australian Associated Press. "If you take a team too lightly, that's the biggest mistake you can make--Australia is a very, very good team, they have very, very good players."

Former Croatian star Prosinecki echoes Simunic's warning, saying "the Australians and Japanese are traditionally very fit and very fast."

While the Croatians would obviously love nothing more than to buck the odds by shocking Brazil right out of the gate, it's clear that the matches against Australia and Japan will be the key to surviving this group.(IHT/Asahi: January 01,2006)


Dado_Prso_092010-05-10 12:31:35 +0000 #2
Great article i also feel we got some chance against brazil possibly a tie
Hercegovac2010-05-10 12:31:20 +0000 #3
With brazil it will be a battle, a battle we are worthy of fighting as proved to be the case in Split.

As for japan and australia this is what we are going to make out of them:

Dado_Prso_092010-05-10 12:42:32 +0000 #4
As for japan and australia this is what we are going to make out of them:

[/quote]

hahahahahahahahahahahhhaa

very true we will turn them into cevapcice
Cro_Leviathan2010-05-10 13:25:05 +0000 #5
I hope that's the case, but something tells me the Japs are gonna be a bit harder than we expect.
herceg_jadran2010-05-10 12:47:14 +0000 #6
Quote:

Originally Posted by Cro_Leviathan

I hope that's the case, but something tells me the Japs are gonna be a bit harder than we expect.

mmmmm me to

i got a feeling this world cup might be a disaster for croatia like we might cum bottom of group

that or we go great and reach semis or sumfn

i dunno croatia is too cocky agaisnt "easy" teams and there too unpredicatable
HRVATSKA2010-05-10 14:27:20 +0000 #7
I think agianst Brazil anything could happen we could draw, lose or win... My prediction: Croatia:1 Vs. Brazil:0

Against Japan either a draw or a win... My prediction Croatia 2: Vs Japan:1

When we verse Australia I expect a win and nothing less but misshaps can happen ... My prediction: Croatia :1 Vs Australia :1, or Croatia :2 Vs Australia :0
BosnianPlaya2010-05-10 15:38:49 +0000 #8
lol, i think Croatia vs. Brazil = 1:3, Australia vs. Croatia = 2-4, Japan vs. Croatia = 1-2

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