Football: World Cup - Blazevic will keep Croats on their toes

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The Independent Online
CROATIA'S COACH Miroslav Blazevic is putting out his strongest possible side to face Argentina in Montpellier today - because he wants to play England in the next round of the World Cup rather than Romania. The Croats, like Arg-entina, have already qualified for the next round of France 98, but whoever comes top may face Glenn Hoddle's side.

Blazevic said: "Against Arg-entina I'm going to put the best team possible on the pitch in order to finish top of the group. I'd rather face England than Romania, as Romania play the same style of game that we do. Sure, Argentina are favourites to win, but I think we can beat them."

Croatia will be strengthened by the return of their captain and playmaker Zvonimir Boban, who sat out the Japan game with a pulled leg muscle.

Argentina's captain, Diego Simeone, who watched from the terraces as an eight-year-old when Mario Kempes won the 1978 World Cup in Buenos Aires, claims the side have yet to show their true colours, despite putting five past Jamaica earlier this week. Simeone, who plays for Internazionale in Italy, said: "We haven't yet reached our peak and we hope to be even better against Croatia."

Meanwhile, the striker Gabriel Batistuta - with four goals already for the tournament - claims winning the Golden Boot could not be further from his mind. "I'm not here to become top scorer in the World Cup - the team is more important," he insisted. "I just think we should attack, although I have no real preference as to our next opponents."

The defender Roberto Sensini limped off against Jamaica with a pulled muscle and coach Daniel Passarella is expected to bring in Nelson Vivas. He may also rest the left-back Jose Chamot because he has already been cautioned once.

Croatia's only absentee is the veteran Derby defender Igor Stimac, suffering from blistered feet. Silvio Maric will take his place. It will be the first meeting between the two countries, but one Croatian player has already faced the South Americans in the World Cup. The midfielder Robert Prosinecki played in the 1990 Yugoslavia team eliminated by Diego Maradona's Argentina in the quarter-finals after a penalty shoot-out.

In today's other Group F game, Japan and Jamaica hope to salvage a little pride and a point from their encounter in Nantes before bidding farewell to their first World Cup.

"From now on our only aim is to win the third match against Jamaica," said the Japanese striker Masashi Nakayama. "It was great for us to come to France but as long as we haven't won a World Cup match we won't be able to say that Japan are one of the world heavyweights." There is little at stake but self-esteem after the two debutants both suffered predictable defeats at the hands of the group favourites, Argentina and Croatia.