Suker scores game-winner for Croatia
Debutant takes third place with win over the Netherlands
Posted: Saturday July 11, 1998 08:46 PM
Davor Suker scored his World Cup-leading sixth goal in the 36th minute to help Croatia finish third in the tournament (AP)|
PARIS (AP) -- They stood in the mixed zone wearing bronze medals and wide
smiles. This was more than just a third-place victory in the World Cup for
It was a magnificent achievement for a nation of 5 million in just its
eighth year of existence and its debut in the world soccer championship.
The Croats didn't win the title, but it didn't seem to matter much.
"I have no regrets," said Robert Prosinecki, who scored the first goal of
a 2-1 victory over the Netherlands
on Saturday night. "We are a small country in our first World Cup and we
came in third."
Riding a brilliant counterattack and the acrobatics of goalkeeper Drazen
Ladic, Croatia had a memorable tournament. After upsetting the Dutch, star
striker Davor Suker -- the tournament's leading scorer with six goals --
ran around Parc des Princes with a Croatian flag draped on his shoulders.
He and his teammates, arms locked, jumped up and down on the victory
stand. They earned their moment of glory as the most successful outsider of
with the best finish by a newcomer since Portugal was third in 1966.
"What we demonstrated is a small and perhaps unknown country is able to
show with great elegance what it is capable of," coach Miroslav Blazevic
said. "For us, the most important thing was winning this game. We wanted to
be the third best team in the world."
Defending champion Brazil plays
host France on Sunday to be the best team in the world. That's a game the
Dutch felt they belong in. But after playing tournament favorite Brazil
evenly for 120 minutes in the semifinals, they fell in a shootout. And they
fizzled in the consolation match.
"We had so many chances and we were not able to take advantage of them,"
Marc Overmars said. "We made a lot of mistakes on offense."
The Netherlands played its usual attacking style, only to be foiled
throughout by Ladic's saves.
Zenden scored the Netherlands' only goal of the match in the 21st minute (AP)||
In a span of a minute late in the game, he made spectacular saves on
Patrick Kluivert and Clarence Seedorf to protect the lead.
"I did my best for my country and my teammates," said Ladic, who has been
known to let his thoughts wander during games.
"If he is not the best keeper in the world," captain Zvonimir Boban said,
"then he is one of the top three. When he puts his mind to it, he is the
best. He made some great saves on the Dutch team."
The Frenchmen in the sellout crowd booed Slaven Bilic every time he
touched the ball. The Croatian defender was pushed in the face by French
defender Laurent Blanc in the semifinals and Blanc was ejected, meaning he
will miss the final. The fans blame Bilic, who added some theatrics to the
But Bilic played an outstanding game, seeming to enjoy the attention.
The Dutch pushed forward at every opportunity, and the Croats displayed
their superb counter-attacking skills all night. The 20-5 edge in shots at
goal showed the Netherlands' superiority in possession.
On both first-half goals, Croatia used quick breaks. Suker gave a perfect
through pass to Robert Jarni in the 13th minute and Jarni faked a defender
before finding Prosinecki. His right-footed shot from 10 yards found the
"It was a great passing play," said Prosinecki, who played for Yugoslavia
in the 1990 World Cup -- when there was no Croatia. "When I got the chance,
I knew I had to score."
The Netherlands tied it on a solo move by Boudewijn Zenden nine minutes
later. Zenden scooted from right wing to midfield and stopped on a dime to
send a left-footed bullet home off goalkeeper Ladic's hands.
Ladic made two sliding kick saves on Kluivert before Suker made it 2-1.
He took a pass from playmaker Boban for a 20-yard shot through the legs of
defender Jaap Stam and into the far corner. Totally fooled goalkeeper Edwin
van der Sar sat on the grass and could only shrug as the Croats celebrated
in the 36th minute.
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