Football: Suker strike puts England in the frame

World Cup: Croatia's maverick talents overhaul a lively but limited Japan to qualify for the second round; Japan 0 Croatia 1 Suker 77 Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 39,000

IT could yet be Croatia but an impending feeling is beginning to take hold that England might be facing Argentina in the World Cup's second round. The persevering Davor Suker's late goal was enough to give the Croats victory at the Stade de la Beaujoire, thus qualifying them for the last 16, and now the Argentinians are left to play catch-up in Group H.

It may be an exercise in chicken-counting but if England do win their group, they will face the second-placed team in Group H. To take over pole position, Argentina will need to beat Jamaica in Paris today by three goals, then secure at least a draw with Croatia in Bordeaux on Friday.

Should the Argentinians fail to do so, the attraction of finishing runners- up would probably increase for England with Croatia, on yesterday's evidence, looking an outfit capable of being tamed. They rarely moved coherently as a team, being more a collection of talented individuals, several of whom are admittedly able to turn games in an instant.

That instant on a blisteringly hot afternoon in Nantes, where the temperature on the pitch nudged 100 degrees, came when Suker struck to shake off enthusiastic but excitable opponents. Naively, Japan surrendered possession in an embryonic attack and Aljosa Asanovic, formerly of Derby Country, accepted it with glee. On he strode down the left before delivering to the far post where Suker took a touch then swept home, the hitherto commanding Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi allowing the ball under his body at his near post.

"It was very difficult to play such heat," said the Croatian coach, Miroslav Blazevic. "Suffice to say that Suker lost four kilos. Japan played an excellent game and created problems for us but we deserved our win because we made more chances."

In Robert Prosinecki, Suker and Asanovic, Croatia possess a maverick trio of talents and egos. All vie with each other for the ball, like lads over the last beer, gesturing in frustration when one of them makes a mistake. They are fortunate to have behind them an outstanding sweeper in Zvonimir Soldo. Perhaps, when the calming Zvonimir Boban returns after a calf injury, there will be more order to them.

Against such as the Japanese, they are always likely to prevail, however. The co-hosts of the 2002 World Cup proved lively opposition, difficult to break down, with Eisuke Nakanishi exceptional at the back. But they rarely looked like scoring, and this was their second successive 1-0 defeat, having to succumbed to Argentina in Toulouse.

Indeed, the Japanese resembled their charming but noisy 20,000 or so fans, who gave the event the air of a women's hockey international at Wembley. They tore up car magazines and threw the pieces as greeting to their team (motors half the prices of Europe, incidentally, the scraps revealed) to give the stadium more the look of the River Plate. They had no Mario Kempes, however, to finish off some neat approach work.

Instead there was the promising 21-year-old Hidetoshi Nakata, who provided some bright moments in midfield even if his football was not quite as conspicuous as his henna-dyed hair. One sensed that, when Drazen Ladic turned away with his left hand Masashi Nakayama's shot from Nakata's brilliant through ball just past the half hour, that the Japanese were destined not to score.

They had other chances, though, in an often sloppy game that clearly the heat got to. Naoki Soma hit a cross shot just wide early on and the substitute, Wagner Lopes, sent a diving header narrowly past a post as time ebbed away. Generally, however, it became a question of whether the Croats would finally find the target.

And until Suker did, they were criminally wasteful, not least the captain himself. First, he headed a yard wide, then clipped a 20-yard free-kick the same distance past. Mario Stanic then forced Kawaguchi into a low save when the best option was Prosinecki at the far post.

Suker's duel in the sun with Kawaguchi continued when he glanced a header wide before gliding past the stumbling Nakanishi and clipping a shot on to the top of the Japan bar. Eventually, though, came the goal that put a gloss on a now labouring Croatia performance.

"I am proud of this team and of our qualification," said Blazevic. "It is a great honour for a small country. From now on, anything is possible and we are going to try to meet the challenge."

England, one suspects, will probably be hoping that they are that challenge.

Japan (3-5-2): Kawaguchi (Yokohama Marinos); Akita (Kashima Antlers), Ihara (Yokohama Marinos), Nakanishi (Jef Utd Ichihara); Narahashi (Kashima Antlers), Yamaguchi (Yokohama Flugels), Nakata (Bellmare Hiratsuka), Nanami (Jubilo Iwata), Soma (Kashima Antlers); Nakayama (Jubilo Iwata), Jo (Yokohama Marinos). Substitutes: Okano (Urawa Red Diamonds) for Nakayama, 61; Morishima (Cerezo Osaka) for Narahashi, 79; Lopes (Bellmare Hiratsuka) for Nanami, 84.

Croatia (3-5-2): Ladic (Croatia Zagreb); Bilic (Everton), Soldo (VfB Stuttgart), Stimac (Derby County); Simic (Croatia Zagreb), Asanovic (Napoli), Jurcic (Croatia Zagreb), Prosinecki (Croatia Zagreb), Jarni (Real Betis); Suker (Real Madrid), Stanic (Parma). Substitutes: Vlaovic (Valencia) for Stimac, h-t; Maric (Croatia Zagreb) for Prosinecki, 67; Tudor (Hajduk Split) for Stanic, 88.

Referee: R Ramdhan (Trinidad).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory