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Rediff.com  » Sports » Japan-Croatia draw plays into Aussie hands

Japan-Croatia draw plays into Aussie hands

June 19, 2006 00:19 IST

One wonders what the great Zico of 1982 World Cup vintage made of the poor ball control in front of goal that left the Group F match between his Japan side and Croatia scoreless on Sunday.

Not even a penalty for Croatia could produce the goal that the match at the Frankenstadion was crying out for from two sides that could ill afford to pick up only one point in their quest for a place in the second round.

Australia, in particular, will take heart from the result and performance by the Croatians, who go into their final group match with the Socceroos in Stuttgart on Thursday having yet to score in the tournament after their 1-0 loss to Brazil.

Japan, beaten 3-1 by Australia in their opening game, are worse off with world champions and favourites Brazil their next opponents in their last group match in Dortmund.

Brazilian Zico was reduced to complaining about a second mid-afternoon kickoff for his team. The temperature inside the stadium was a sticky 27 Celsius on Sunday.

DIVING SAVE

It is hard to see Brazil and Australia not qualifying to leave Croatia, runners up at France '98 and favoured before the tournament to join Brazil in the next round, leaving at the group stage.

Darijo Srna took a 22nd-minute penalty after Japan captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto brought down Dado Prso and it was not a bad effort but keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi made a good diving save.

Japan, having been let off, should have taken the lead early in the second half but striker Atsushi Yanagisawa, fed from the right by lively right back Akira Kaji, fluffed his finish badly, shooting well wide with the goal at his mercy.

There were a total of 11 shots on target, six for Croatia, who failed to make use of their superior height from 11 corners.

Both sides needed a win but approached the game with defence uppermost in their minds, the Japanese taking the game to the Croats but never in sufficient numbers to trouble the much taller and bigger rival defence.

HIGH BALLS

On top of that, Japan often played high balls into the area, virtually handing possession to the Croats. Only late in the game did they try to keep the ball down following the example of their Brazilian-born left back Alex.

Croatia, with coach Zlatko Kranjcar's son Niko their most incisive player, preferred to sit back and counter-attack, only late in the game pushing forward in greater numbers.

Kranjcar made Croatia's best chances and hit the bar with a stinging shot from outside the box close to the half hour.

Given the form of both teams, it is not easy to say what a goal might have done in terms of unlocking the match.

It could have inspired better finishing from Croatia, who exerted greater control despite 56 percent possession for the Japanese, and a victory to take to their meeting with Australia.

Japan, who reached the second round as co-hosts four years ago, picked up their first point in their fifth World Cup match in Europe after losing their three group matches at France '98.

Croatia must now impose their greater football pedigree on Australia, a team they have supplied with considerable immigrant talent, to retain any chance of staying in the tournament.

The third place they earned in France in 1998 looks exactly what it was, part of a different century.

Rex Gowar
Source:
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