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Rediff.com  » Sports » Croatia rally to hold France

Croatia rally to hold France

June 18, 2004 02:21 IST

Croatia held champions France to a 2-2 draw in a explosive Euro 2004 football match on Thursday, the latest tournament surprise that leaves Group B wide open.

An own goal by Igor Tudor midway through the first half seemed to have France on course for the quarter-finals but two goals in four minutes early in the second, a Milan Rapaic penalty and a shot by Dado Prso, suddenly turned things round.

David Trezeguet rescued the holders in the 64th minute to set up a tense final round of fixtures on June 21.

France lead the way with four points. England, who beat Switzerland 3-0 earlier on Thursday have three, Croatia have two and the Swiss one.

France play Switzerland in the final round, needing just a draw to advance. England play Croatia, also needing a point, but Croatia and Switzerland could still qualify with wins.

France started confidently, knocking the ball about crisply, but never really threatened in the opening 20 minutes.

The breakthrough came out of the blue when Zinedine Zidane, who struck both goals in France's 2-1 comeback win over England on Sunday, curled a free kick from wide on the left that took a slight deflection off defender Tudor and left goalkeeper Tomislav Butina wrong-footed.

OUTRAGEOUS FLICK

The game then went into a lull with neither side showing any particular urgency until an outrageous backheeled flick by Zidane from a corner set up William Gallas for a header, which the defender wide of the post.

Croatia coach Otto Baric said in the build-up to the game that he would be delighted with a draw and his side were on level terms three minutes into the second half after Mikael Silvestre bundled over Dovani Rossi in the box.

French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez had saved David Beckham's penalty for England on Sunday but had no chance with Rapaic's blasted effort.

The massed hordes of red and white checked Croatian fans erupted to acclaim their first goal of the tournament and four minutes later they took the roof off to celebrate the second.

Prso, who earned his living in the French league for AS Monaco last season, thought he had lost possession after hooking the ball over the head of Silvestre but a miscued clearance by recalled captain Marcel Desailly returned it to him and he took full advantage by lashing the ball past Barthez.

France, who had scored twice in three minutes to beat England on Sunday, were stunned but quickly collected themselves and drew level with a hotly-disputed goal in the 64th minute.

Trezeguet charged down a Butina clearance, the ball hitting his arm, before slotting into the empty net from a tight angle.

The Croatian players complained bitterly to Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen but the goal stood.

France then went for the win, sending on Robert Pires for the rusty-looking Sylvain Wiltord but they could not manage it.

Ivica Mornar could have won it for Croatia in injury-time when he swivelled inside the six-metre box but flashed his shot over the bar and their last chance of victory was gone.

Croatia, who had lost their three previous meetings, including the 1998 World Cup semi-final, also threatened on the break but at the final whistle their fans celebrated as if they had already won the title.

Teams:

Croatia (4-4-2): 12-Tomislav Butina; 13-Dario Simic, 21-Robert Kovac, 3-Josip Simunic, 22-Nenad Bjelica (15-Jerko Leko 68); 20-Giovanni Rosso, 5-Igor Tudor, 10-Niko Kovac, 7-Milan Rapaic (19-Ivica Mornar 87); 9-Dado Prso, 11-Tomislav Sokota (18-Ivica Olic 73).

France (4-4-2): 16-Fabien Barthez; 5-William Gallas (19-Willy Sagnol 81), 15-Lilian Thuram, 8-Marcel Desailly, 13-Michael Silvestre; 4-Patrick Vieira, 17-Olivier Dacourt (18-Benoit Pedretti 79), 11-Sylvain Wiltord (7-Robert Pires 70), 10-Zinedine Zidane; 12-Thierry Henry, 20-David Trezeguet.

Referee: Kim Milton Nielsen (Denmark)

Linesmen: Jens Larsen (Denmark), Jorgen Jepsen (Denmark)

Source:
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