Football: Zola `excluded' by Maldini

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The Independent Online
THE Chelsea striker Gianfranco Zola last night revealed his anguish at being left out of Italy's World Cup squad by Cesare Maldini - and hinted that the way the Italian coach had acted had made the process even more painful.

"It seems to me that after giving him a debut victory with my goal at Wembley, there seems to have been some sort of gradual exclusion process. I have been slowly but steadily pushed out," claimed Zola.

Maldini has stated that Zola has had a difficult season - but the player feels he has been the victim of a bias against English Premiership clubs.

"Being left out fills me with pain," Zola admitted. "It's not only a great disappointment, it's a hard blow to me because I genuinely believed I would be in until the very last minute."

Croatia's World Cup preparations have suffered a serious blow with the withdrawal of their key striker, Alen Boksic.

The Lazio player faces surgery on a knee injury and will not recover in time for the finals. "Croatia is losing one of its main trump cards for the World Cup. I've been building my strategy on him," the distressed national coach, Miroslav Blazevic, said. He went on to accuse Lazio of concealing the problem in order not to jeopardise Boksic's proposed transfer to Milan.

Gabriel Batistuta scored his fifth international goal in three games as Argentina secured a 2-0 friendly win over South Africa in Buenos Aires on Monday. Batistuta broke the deadlock in the 50th minute and Ariel Ortega added a second with the last kick of the match.