Football: Boksic goal puts Croatia beyond reach of Ukraine

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The Independent Online
Ukraine 1

Croatia 1

Croatia win 3-1 on aggregate

Alen Boksic set Croatia on the way to their first World Cup finals with a 27th-minute goal and left Ukraine bemoaning the one that got away.

The Dynamo Kiev striker Andrei Shevchenko, the 21-year-old in whom the Ukrainians had placed high hopes after his hat-trick against Barcelona last week, had given the hosts an early view of the road to France. After four minutes the Croatian goalkeeper, Marijan Mrmic, spilled a shot from Vitaly Kosovsky straight into the striker's path and he made no mistake.

Minutes later, the 70,000 fans in the rain-swept Olympic Stadium thought their country could be on their way to the finals when Shevchenko repaid the compliment, Kosovsky tapping into an empty net after Shevchenko's shot had rebounded to him. Their joy was brief, the referee disallowing the goal for offside and Ukrainian dreams were soon over.

"It was a clear goal," the Ukraine coach, Jozef Sabo, said. "The referee's mistake cost us dearly. It forced us to change our strategy."

Croatia, who had weathered the early storm, created welcome breathing space for themselves and all but killed off the contest in the 27th minute when Boksic equalised. The Lazio striker turned in front of goal and rifled home a low right-foot shot, which appeared to take a slight deflection.

The result was never in doubt after that, as Ukraine needed three more to close the gap and cancel Croatia's away-goal advantage.

Davor Suker had the best chance to give Croatia victory on the night, failing to meet a perfect cross midway through the second half. Ukraine's second- half efforts were limited to a curling effort from Yuri Kalitvintsev. The home side simply ran out of stamina after that while the visitors played a disciplined and error-free game.

Ukraine, who were desperately disappointed not to make their mark, have yet to appear in the finals of a major tournament as an independent nation since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

"I feel really sorry for Ukraine but our team was the better on the night," the Croatia coach, Miroslav Blazevic, said. "In all my 30 years of coaching I was never more scared than when they scored their second goal. Fortunately the referee ruled an offside. It was the right decision."

The failure of the young Ukrainian side to make the finals underlined that football in the former Soviet Union is still struggling despite the success of the Ukraine's leading club, Dynamo Kiev, in the Champions' League.

The French finals, though, will definitely be poorer for the absence of Shevchenko and his young strike partner Sergei Rebrov as anyone on the wrong end of their sharp-shooting at Barcelona and Newcastle will testify.

Goals: Shevchenko (4) 1-0; Boksic (28) 1-1.

Ukraine: Shovkovsky; Luzhny, Bezhenar, Golovko, Popov; Dmytrulin (Mykhailenko, 63), Gusin (Kryventsov, 87), Kalitvintsev, Shevchenko, Rebrov.

Croatia: Mrmic; Jarni, Juric, Simic, Saric (Kovac, 57); Boban, Soldo, Jurcic, Asanovic (Tudor, 90); Suker, Boksic (Vlaovic, 85).