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INSIDE SOCCER

Is There a New World Order?

by Grant Wahl

Posted: Wed July 8, 1998

 
Sports Illustrated In hindsight Croatia's shocking 3-0 tour de force against Germany in the quarterfinals last Saturday shouldn't have been so startling. Croatia's roster includes four players from Yugoslavia's storied 1987 under-20 world champion team and nine starters who perform in one of the world's top four leagues (Italy, England, Spain or Germany). Moreover, Germany was the oldest team in the Cup (average age: 30.3), and its lineup had hardly changed since Euro '96. In that tournament Germany eliminated Croatia 2-1 in the quarterfinals. "We learned a lot from that game," said Croatian defender Slaven Bilic last Saturday. "They have only one creative player, Thomas Hassler. If you stop him, you only have to deal with the flanks, and we concentrated on them very well tonight."

Suker and Matthaus
Suker (left) and newcomer Croatia were not in awe of Germany's Matthaus. (Ross Kinnaird/Allsport)

In fact, the truly stunning development in Lyons was the Germans' uncharacteristic churlishness after the match. They targeted their wrath at Norwegian referee Rune Pedersen, who had ejected German defender Christian Worns in the 40th minute for a bone-rattling foul on striker Davor Suker. "He is responsible for this picture of misery," German defender Lothar Matthaus said of Pedersen. Prominent in that locker room picture was Worns, who bawled ceaselessly despite being consoled by German chancellor Helmut Kohl. "It's a joke," Worns muttered later.

In a Cup that had been short on surprises until last weekend, Croatia's win may have signaled the beginning of a new world order in soccer. Three countries with a combined eight world championships (Argentina, Italy and Germany) lost in the quarters to three countries that have never raised the trophy (the Netherlands, France and Croatia, respectively). Suker sized up the moment when he compared Croatia's victory with its loss to Germany two years ago. "It was David meeting Goliath then," he said. "Now, who is who?"

Issue date: July 13, 1998

 
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