World Cup: Suker ensures Croatia spoil the Japanese party
THE GOOD people of Nantes are enjoying the World Cup. The three games here so far have had good football and a cracking atmosphere.
Nantes is where the Loire flows into the Atlantic, where Jacques Cousteau was born and, most importantly, where Didier Deschamps and Marcel Desailly started out before emigrating to Italy via Marseilles to find fame and fortune. It is also where Miroslav Blazevic, Croatia's coach, spent three years in charge of the local team around the turn of the decade and Saturday's victory over Japan, which all but ensured his country's qualification for the second round at their first attempt, represented a satisfying return to the region for Blazevic.
"I am very proud to see Croatia among the first teams to qualify," he managed to say at the post-match press conference before politics, sadly, tarnished the moment. Someone from the Croat embassy in Paris walked uninvited on to the stage to complain that the woman interpreting for Blazevic spoke with a Serbian accent. Fortunately, common sense soon prevailed after a Fifa spokesman ruled the interloper offside.
The Japanese were roared on by a massive following who had happily handed over an average of pounds 500 per black-market ticket - "just wait till the French come to Japan," one was reported to have said - and, with a ticker- tape welcome for the teams and shrieks of hysteria just about every time they attacked, it all made for quite a party.
Predictably it was Davor Suker who proved to be the difference between the two sides despite the best endeavours of Hidetoshi Nakata, the 21- year-old midfield player whose dyed red hair was not the only thing that set him apart from his team-mates. The Japanese gave as good as they got from a below-par Croatia side, who were clearly feeling the effects of the heat-wave more than their opponents. Suker apparently lost more than eight pounds in weight during the course of the match, but as far as his team-mates were concerned it was well worth the sweat.
Standing in as captain for the injured Zvonimir Boban, Suker was on the end of nearly all of Croatia's chances. There were three near-misses for the Real Madrid striker in the first half and he hit the bar with an impudent chip early in the second before he found the net. Aljosa Asanovic picked out Suker with an accurate cross, which was converted with the minimum of fuss.
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).
Latest in Sport
How Liverpool can catch Manchester United and secure Champions League football next season
Arsenal transfer news: Arsene Wenger reveals: 'We are not close to signing anybody. We need to lose some players'
Danny Jones: Keighley Cougars half-back dies after cardiac arrest during league game
Chelsea season player ratings: Grading the entire squad of the new Premier League champions
Floyd Mayweather beats Manny Pacquiao by a unanimous points decision - but Pacquiao thinks he should have won, saying 'he did nothing'
- 1 Oxygen-starved 'dead zones' with no marine life up to 100-miles long discovered in the Atlantic Ocean
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 4 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 5 Tory activist asked to step down after Labour candidate Rupa Huq is 'manhandled' while questioning Boris Johnson on the campaign trail
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...
£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...
£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...
£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...