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
Bath vs Saracens Premiership Final match preview: What time does it start and where can I watch it?
Hector Bellerin: How saying no to Barcelona paid off for Bellerin - and Arsenal
Paul Scholes column: With Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Fifa corruption live: Sepp Blatter tries to shift attention to Uefa and says he expects more from US investigators
David Gill rejects Fifa vice-president role after Sepp Blatter wins election because of the 'terribly damaging events' under his reign
- 1 Engineer pictured fixing plane's engine with 'duct tape' by concerned EasyJet passenger
- 2 Two-year-old says goodbye to bin man best friend
- 4 There is something wrong but very right about this Bible illustration
- 5 Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'
£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...
£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...
£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...
£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...