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(E) Croatia 2 - Scotland 0 - generation of entertainers
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  11/23/2003 | Sports | Unrated
(E) Croatia 2 - Scotland 0 - generation of entertainers

 


Croatia U-21 2, Scotland U-21 0

DARRYL BROADFOOT November 17 2003

CROATIA is a country in the throes of a social, political and economical regeneration. It would appear that this resurgence has spawned a prodigious generation of entertainers. As if winning the Junior Eurovision Contest on Saturday night was not enough, their fledgling footballers blew Scotland off the stage in Varazdin yesterday.
Qualification for the finals and hopes of hosting the tournament are precariously poised after a pulverising first leg yet for all their superiority, the Croats could not kill the tie off.
Rainer Bonhof and his captain, Ian Murray, remain convinced that the deficit can be overturned at Easter Road tomorrow, even allowing for the ineligibility of Gary Caldwell and David McCracken. The Croats will be handicapped themselves, with their most accomplished performers, Niko Krenjcar and Marko Babic, Slovenia-bound with the senior team.
"It will be vital for us to have a full house at Easter Road," said the Hibs midfielder Murray. "If we get an early goal then they might start to get nervous. Their best two players will be back in the senior team and that can only be good news for us. This tie is not dead."
Bonhof was irked by the referee's refusal to award a second half penalty when Kevin Kyle was grappled in the penalty box midway through the second half by the imposing Mario Lucic.
"He was holding him for more than 10 seconds but we got nothing. Only in American football is that kind of holding allowed but we still have a chance," he said, mindful of his side's spirited fight back from two goals down against Lithuania in their final qualifying group match.
"We were not in the game in the first half but I told them to always believe in themselves and they played more like the way I'm used to seeing them play in the second half.
"I will expect more or less the same situation as before this game. We have to show the Scottish spirit but everything is still open."
The Croatia coach, Martin Novoselac, also refused to count out Scotland. He said: "I have told my players that they should be very careful in Scotland. It is going to be very different and difficult over there.
"We did well in the first half today but we had a crisis for 20 minutes in the second half. In saying that we still had the chances to kill this tie off but we never took them."
There was little chance of the Sabbath being observed in Croatia yesterday. Zagreb, its bustling and increasingly cosmopolitan capital city, became a hive of political point-scoring as the majority of the 60-odd parliamentary candidates took to their soap boxes amid boisterous scenes in the splendid square.
Moreover, there was a significant step forward for the country's ever-improving infrastructure with the opening of a new stretch of motorway direct to the doorstep of neighbouring Hungary. Progress has not been quite so prevalent in the nation's favourite sport. A heated derby with another of their local rivals, Slovenia, ended in a thoroughly uncomfortable 1-1 draw on Saturday evening for the senior side.
Gone is the flair of Zvonimir Boban, a celebrity restaurateur these days as well as national icon and potential government leader, while the predatory potency of Davor Suker and sumptuous skills of Robert Prosinecki have been inadequately replaced.
There is great hope for the future, though, with Martin Novoselac's brawny new breed regularly plundered by the senior side. On this evidence, they have married muscle and marvel to devastating effect.
In the quaint little home of NK Varteks, the Hearts of the national league, Croatia's colossal collection were quite chilling in carrying out their business.
Dwarfed almost to a man by their direct opponents, Scotland qualification aspirations shrunk during an 11-minute blitz. Manful mining on either flank yielded rich reward for the hosts. Mladen Petric, a rampaging right winger, bore his way to the byeline and delivered the deftest dunt into the path of Marko Babic, who steered the ball past Craig Gordon with his instep.
Visibly dazed by the dynamism of the Croats, whose famous check shirts seemed to blur when in full flow, Scotland were then subjected to a slaughtering on the other side of the field. Intricate inter-play between Babic and Danijel Pranjic carved Scotland open and the full back's low delivery was lofted into the roof of the net by Goran Ljubojevic, who had strained every sinew to connect.
The Croats were as brutal as they were brilliant and as if their staggering superiority was not sufficient, Michael Stewart, clearly identified as the visitors' orchestrator with the No.10 shirt on his back, received a battering on a rota basis.
It was all rather disheartening, not least when, after only 25 minutes, an impromptu game of Toro kept the Croats in the crowd amused. Bonhof was anything but on the Scotland bench.
Babic, who was among the substitutes for the senior side on Saturday, was a majestic matador. His physical stature belied a sublime sleight of foot which simply infuriated those who could not get close to him. It was hardly surprising that with all this pent-up anger, McCracken and Caldwell were the first names in the referee's notebook.
Scotland's only saving grace was keeping the score down at the interval. Babic's audacious attempt to lob Gordon from 50 yards, hogging the left touchline was mercifully thwarted by the Hearts goalkeeper, promoted to the starting line-up after Derek Soutar succumbed to a calf injury.
Shaun Maloney, a surprise spectator for the first half, was summoned to inject some impetus to a rather forlorn front line. He was Hobbit-like in confrontation with these specimens but his relentless snapping of heels at least allayed fears of a complex. His introduction at least burdened the hitherto redundant Croatia defence, with the Celtic striker's darting diagonal runs and low centre of gravity an acute aggravation and the likeliest source of salvation tomorrow evening at Easter Road.
The emergence of Stephen Hughes five minutes before the end proffered hope of a re-enactment of his heroics against Lithuania at McDiarmid. Alas it was not to be.
Croatia (4-4-2) Vranjic; Buljat, Drpic, Lucic, Pranjic; Petric (Zahora 81), Jese, Kranjcar, Safaric; Babic, Ljubojevic
Bookings Petric 63
Scotland (3-5-2) Gordon; Kennedy, Caldwell, McCracken; Canero, Kerr, Stewart (Hughes 84), Murray, Hammell; McManus (Maloney 45), Kyle
Bookings McCracken 33, Caldwell 45, Kennedy 85
Referee Iouri Bskakov (Russia)

Copyright © 2003 Newsquest (Herald & Times) Limited. All Rights Reserved

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