Football: Talented Croats have no fear of Newcastle
Wednesday 13 August 1997
St James' Park certainly has been a formidable fortress for the Toon Army on European nights: only twice have Continental visitors managed to survive defeat there. But, then, there are real armies and real fortresses in a place called the real world beyond football's field of dreams.
The players of Croatia Zagreb, who stand between Newcastle United and the promised land of the Champions' League proper, needed no reminding of that when they ventured to Belgrade in the preliminary round last month. Entering the airport terminal was considered too risky; they were hurried under police escort directly from the runway to their hotel, where they were guarded by 12 officers, each one carrying a metal detector.
So it is fairly safe to assume that facing Newcastle at St James' will not be a fearful prospect for the Croat champions, who escaped from the Serbian "pit of hate", as one newspaper described the atmosphere in Belgrade's Partizan Stadium, with a 1-0 deficit before winning the return leg 5-0.
The triumph in Zagreb was hailed as "a great victory for Croatia" by Franjo Tudjman, the president (and the club's chief patron), who cut short a meeting with Robin Cook, Britain's foreign secretary, to attend the match. President Tudjman proclaimed his beloved boys could "beat anyone in the whole of Europe" and while that remains to be proven, Dalglish is wary of the threat they pose.
"Zagreb are a right good side," he said, citing Robert Prosinecki, the midfield playmaker who played for Real Madrid and Barcelona after prompting Red Star Belgrade's 1991 European Cup success, to illustrate the quality in the opposition ranks. The Croats also have Silvio Maric and Dario Simic, 21-year-olds who have signed pre-contracts with Juventus and Milan respectively, and Igor Cvitanovic, on Bryan Robson's wanted list before Fabrizio Ravanelli was lured to Teesside.
Cvitanovic is noted for his pace, an attribute Dalglish chose to highlight yesterday in the ace, disguised as a joker, in his own playing pack. "He's not as daft as he'd lead you to believe," the Newcastle manager said of Faustino Asprilla. "He always looks shattered, even when he's lining up for the team photo. But I wouldn't like to race him for my wages."
Three times a European Cup winner as a Liverpool player, Dalglish has yet to savour victory in a European tie as a manager. He might not venture his wages against the Croats keeping him waiting again tonight.
Latest in Sport
Chelsea injury news: Cesc Fabregas and Branislav Ivanovic could join Diego Costa on the sidelines for crucial Manchester City clash
Australian Open 2015: Thanks to Amelie Mauresmo, it's no longer Andy Murray against the world
Manchester United sign former Manchester City prospect Sadiq El Fitouri on advice from Phil Neville and Paul Scholes
Kim Sears 'swearing' outburst threatens to overshadow Andy Murray's Australian Open semi-final win
Arsene Wenger photobombs Arsenal photo shoot - manages to look like famous 'Bigfoot' picture
- 1 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
King Abdullah dead: We can't afford not to hold Saudi Arabia's royals to account
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...
£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...
£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...