Bobic relishes Croat clash

Derrick Whyte looks at the dilemmas facing Germany ahead of the quarter-finals
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The Independent Online
Fredi Bobic, the VfB Stuttgart striker, could have been playing for Croatia at Old Trafford today.

Instead, Bobic pledged his international future to Germany and is now determined to show it was the right decision.

Croatia's coach Miroslav Blazevic left out eight first-teamers in the final Group D game against Portugal, saying he was happy to come second and face the Germans.

But Maribor-born Bobic, whose mother is a Croat and father Slovenian, said: "I can't imagine that we are his favourite opponents because in the back of their minds they are really, really afraid of Germany."

And Bobic, whose best friend is the West Ham defender, Slaven Bilic, added: "It might be that as a team Croatia are not that strong because they are too individually minded."

But what individuals, in Spain-based trio Davor Suker, Nikola Jerkan and Robert Prosinecki, Derby defender Igor Stimac, and Zvonimir Boban and Alen Boksic, who play in Italy.

However, Bobic was not tempted to join a side born out of the ravages of war. "I have lived all my life in Germany and now I just hope to play and score a goal," he said.

Germany's coach Berti Vogts was giving no clues as to whether he will prefer Bobic, Oliver Bierhoff or Stefan Kuntz alongside Jurgen Klinsmann, while he also has critical decisions to make in midfield and defence.

The most contentious choice is between Thomas Hassler and the Bayern Munich midfielder, Mehmet Scholl.

Whatever side he fields, Vogts is sure of one thing: "We really must perform if we want to move on to London. We have to summon all our strength and play the game at our pace - otherwise there might be a nasty surprise."

Blazevic believes his team can upset the efficient Germans and he stoked up the rivalry when he claimed that his star striker Suker is better than Klinsmann.

Asked which German players he would like in his team, he named midfielders Scholl and Andy Moller, plus sweeper Matthias Sammer. "I don't need Klinsmann because I have a better player in Suker," he said.

Klinsmann has dismissed fears that a cluster of yellow cards could hinder Germany's quest to reach the semi-finals.

Both sides will be walking a disciplinary tightrope with a total of 15 players carrying cautions from the first phase of the tournament.

Another booking for any of them would mean sitting out next Wednesday's last-four clash against the winners of today's supercharged Wembley battle between England and Spain.

Vogts knows his stars would hate to be sidelined and reckons it could be in the back of their minds.

"Psychologically speaking, you have players who have already been booked once and a little piece of their mind is already in the next but one match," he declared.

Moller and Hassler, the wing-backs Christian Ziege and Stefan Reuter and the forwardsKuntz and Bierhoff are the men concerned.

The Croats have recorded three bookings in each of their three games so far, but they included only three first teamers in their final match against Portugal.

Blazevic wanted to protect key men from possible suspension and also give them a rest before playing Germany. Only Robert Jarni, Bilic and Prosinecki have started all of Croatia's Euro 96 games so far.

Klinsmann recognised: "The Croats have very good individual players, but we want to put pressure on them and play our own game. And we hope that we have learned from our mistakes against Italy. Our concentration must be right and from the first second onwards we will go full steam ahead. We have to dictate play. That is the key element."