Impressive Croatia far from humbled by Brazil loss
BERLIN, June 14: Croatia's fans lit flares and celebrated at the end of their 1-0 defeat to Brazil in their opening World Cup match at the Olympiastadion to show just how proud they were of their team.
Croatia coach Zlatko Kranjcar said afterwards that they always knew that this would be a game they would probably lose -- but that wins over Japan and Australia in their remaining two Group F fixtures should be enough to see them through.
''We always thought we might well find ourselves in this position after the first game so it's no surprise and no real disappointment,'' he said. ''We were perhaps unlucky not to get a point but we know what we have to do to qualify now.'' Victory in the next two matches cannot be taken for granted of course, but if Croatia play as well against Japan and Australia as they did against Brazil, the odds are probably on them taking all six points.
Croatia had far the better of play for about 20 minutes at the start of the second half and only some outstanding saves by Brazilian goalkeeper Dida stopped them reaping reward for inventive midfield play and direct attacking.
They probably could have even afforded to be rather more adventurous against Brazil and if Dado Prso had played in a more central role in the Croatia attack rather than trying to cut in from the wings, he might have ended the game with a goal or two.
Croatia are desperate to do well in these finals after flopping out at the first-round stage in 2002 following their semi-final appearance on their debut in 1998.
Kranjcar's team is well organised and proved against the world champions they could not be intimidated. One brilliant tackle in the second half by Robert Kovac summed up their speed of thought and their commitment.
Kranjcar's son Niko had a fine game in his usual attacking midfield role and went close with a header late in the game when Croatia looked as though they were easily capable of securing a draw.
Captain Niko Kovac, who failed to finish the game after picking up a rib injury following a heavy challenge from Brazil's Ze Roberto towards the end of the first half, agreed with his coach on what their priorities were now.
''We have to win both of the other games. We knew that before but now it's reality,'' he said. ''Now we all need to concentrate on that.'' He said he would know after training later on Wednesday whether he would be fit in time for the next game against Japan on Sunday in Nuremberg.