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   June 8, 2002 | 2000 IST



Battle of Wits

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Italy over-confident say Croatians

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While the Italians were grumbling about their disallowed goals on Saturday, Croatia's players were revelling in their unexpected 2-1 victory and claiming the Italians were too over-confident for their own good.

Striker Alen Boksic, determined to make up for missing Croatia's World Cup debut in France because of injury four years ago, said: "They were far too over-confident. I think they thought they were too good for us even when it was 0-0.

"But we learned a lot of lessons from the (1-0) defeat to Mexico last Monday, although that match was played in incredible heat. It was much cooler today, we kept our shape much better and played very well."

Boksic was also full of praise for young Croatian substitute Ivica Olic, who came on after 57 minutes and scored their equaliser 16 minutes later.

Olic, 22, making only his fifth appearance for Croatia, played with all the maturity of a seasoned international and was lightning fast to react and score the equaliser when he swept in a raking ball from Robert Jarni.

"He was absolutely superb, fantastic, he is a really good player for someone so young," Boksic added.


There were smiles all round among the Croatians at their smash and grab victory and Davor Vugrinec, who plays his club football in Italy with Lecce, was beaming more than most.

He had a very good game marshalling attacks from midfield until he went off for Olic just before the hour mark.

"We played at pace, we were much better than we were against Mexico, and by getting the three points, we have thrown the group wide open.

"We also had the right spirit, we really stuck together today and deserved our win -- I can't think of anyone who has played like that against Italy recently.

"I think we surprised the Italians by how we played up front. We were fast and clinical and caused them a lot of problems -- and Italy do not concede two goals too often."

With the group now so tightly balanced, there is likely to be all to play for when Italy face Mexico and Ecuador play Croatia next Thursday. Italy beat Ecuador 2-0 in their opening game.

Depending on what happens when Mexico play Ecuador on Sunday, all four could go into Thursday's matches with three points each.

Vugrinec would not commit himself on Croatia's immediate future. "Let's just wait and see what happens. We have three points, and it's wide open."

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