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France, Croatia already looking ahead

June 17, 2004 11:43 IST
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France and Croatia are already looking ahead to their final group games for different reasons but must first negotiate their Euro 2004 clash on Thursday.

Croatia coach Otto Baric says their last Group B match against England will be decisive and is planning to withdraw at least two of the five players who were cautioned in the opening 0-0 draw with Switzerland to avoid any suspensions.

France coach Jacques Santini also has an eye on the champions' final game against Switzerland and is talking about resting some of his leading players for that match if qualification is secured with a victory over Croatia.

Baric has already made it clear he would be delighted with a draw in Leiria and though Santini would not like to see his side's winning run of 14 competitive matches come to an end, he would probably not be too displeased with a point either.

France's whole approach to the game has been manufactured by the remarkable final three minutes of their match against England, where a looming 1-0 defeat was turned into a 2-1 win.

Though Santini has talked about trying to ease the tournament workload of key trio Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires, he will not want to take any risks.

Consequently, he is unlikely to make too many major changes to his starting lineup against Croatia.


Centre back Marcel Desailly, fit again after a knee injury, may start, while midfielder Claude Makelele, nursing a painful shoulder, could make way for Olivier Dacourt.

Otherwise, the champions will go into the game at their considerable full strength as they seek to make it four wins out of four against Croatia.

Knowing that the Croats will be playing for a draw has influenced the French approach to the match

"I guess they will wait for us for a while, trying to score on counter-attacks," said Desailly.

"But if they fail to find the net in the first hour they will have to take risks."

Baric is playing the underdog card, saying his team does not have the quality of France or England but will do their best to compete.

"Just the name of France or England is enough to inspire my players to greater heights," he said.

"We will primarily play to avoid defeat as one point against France would equal a victory."

Experienced anchorman Igor Tudor, available again after being suspended for the draw with Switzerland, seems certain to start, probably in a defensive midfield role.

Strikers Dado Prso and midfielder Nenad Bjelica, both booked against the Swiss, will probably start on the bench.

Striker Ivan Klasnic, who had a great season with German champions Werder Bremen, is likely to be among the starters, with Tomislav Sokota another who could be rested.

Just in case the 11 players on the pitch are not up to the job, Croatia are seeking extra help from a higher level.

They plan to stop off for a blessing at the 'Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima', which celebrates a claimed appearance by the Virgin Mary before two young girls in 1917.

Probable Teams:

France (4-4-2): 16-Fabien Barthez; 5-William Gallas, 15-Lilian Thuram, 13-Mickael Silvestre (or 8-Marcel Desailly), 3-Bixente Lizarazu; 4-Patrick Vieira, 17-Olivier Dacourt, 7-Robert Pires, 10-Zinedine Zidane; 12-Thierry Henry, 20-David Trezeguet.

Croatia (4-4-2): 12-Tomislav Butina; 13-Dario Simic, 21-Robert Kovac, 3-Josip Simunic, 6-Boris Zivkovic; 19-Ivica Mornar, 5-Igor Tudor, 10-Niko Kovac, 7-Milan Rapaic; 18-Ivica Olic, 17-Ivan Klasnic.

Referee: Kim Milton Nielsen (Denmark)

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

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