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   June 8, 2002 | 1040 IST



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Croatia ditch veterans against Italy

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It will be out with the old and in with the new for Croatia on Saturday as they hope to find the inspiration to beat World Cup group G favourites Italy.

Coach Mirko Jozic has axed veteran midfielder Robert Prosinecki and striker Davor Suker from the starting line-up -- both were substituted after poor showings in a 1-0 defeat by Mexico.

Suker was top scorer in the 1998 tournament, when Croatia reached the semifinals, and Jozic will likely look to Milan Rapaic to partner Alen Boksic. Davor Vugrinec is expected to take over Prosinecki's playmaking role.

Jozic has admitted his side faces a very difficult task against the Italians, saying: "Miracles don't happen often but we have to believe in ourselves".

The Italians may be forced into an unwished change with defender and captain Paolo Maldini facing a fitness test after turning his ankle in training on Friday.

Italy, one of the favourites for the title, can take a big step towards a place in the second round with a second straight win after their 2-0 victory over Ecuador on Monday.

Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni will wait for news about Maldini's injury before deciding on his starting line-up.

Should Italy's most capped player fail to be fit for his 124th appearance for his country then Christian Panucci will likely play in a three-man defence with Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro.

Trapattoni would probably call up Francesco Coco for the left flank although central midfielders Gennaro Gattuso and Cristiano Zanetti could also be in the frame.

The Croats are the only team in group G to have previously beaten Italy, in a European championship game in Palermo in 1994, and Trapattoni believes his side will need to be alert.

"The second round of group games in this World Cup has shown that no-one can be sure of qualification and that applies to us too," said the Italy coach who welcomes back striker Filippo Inzaghi after he missed the Ecuador game with a knee injury.

Probable teams:

Italy: 1-Gianluigi Buffon; 2-Christian Panucci, 5-Fabio Cannavaro, 13-Alessandro Nesta, 3-Paolo Maldini (or 4-Francesco Coco); 19-Gianluca Zambrotta, 14-Luigi Di Biagio, 17-Damiano Tommasi; 10-Francesco Totti; 9-Filippo Inzaghi, 21-Christian Vieri.

Croatia: 1-Stipe Pletikosa; 20-Dario Simic, 21-Robert Kovac, 3-Josep Simunic, 17-Robert Jarni; 4-Stjepan Tomas, 14-Zvonimir Soldo, 10-Niko Kovac, 7-Davor Vugrinec, 5-Milan Rapaic, 11-Alen Boksic.

Referee: Markus Merk (Germany)

Heiner Mueller (Germany)
Jens Larsen (Denmark)

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