Preview: Croatia v Australia

Australia must earn at least a draw in order to qualify for the round of 16 when they face Croatia in Stuttgart, but should they lose the Europeans will leap frog them for that cherished spot.

    Australia's Mark Viduka who once had dreams of playing for Croatia

    It could have been a very different night in Stuttgart for a number of players in the match with their heritage offering them a few choices to make.

    Six Socceroos have Croatian backgrounds; captain Mark Viduka, midfielders Jason Culina and Josip Skoko, defender Tony Popovic and goal keepers Zeljko Kalac and Ante Covic all pledged their allegiances to Australia when faced with the choice of who to represent.

    Three Croatian players however chose differently.

    Defender Joseph Simunic, midfielder Ante Seric and goal keeper Joseph Didulica were all born in Australia but decided to play for the country of their ancestors when faced with the conundrum of representation.

    In fact, the choice for Seric came at a bizarre time.

    When Croatia last played Australia in 1998 he was picked for both sides.

    He decided to opt for Croatia, and considering the state that Australian football was in at the time it is easy to be sympathetic.

    While a link to Australia ties the opponents, family ties others.

    Croatia’s Didulica attended his cousin’s wedding in Melbourne, Australia prior to the World Cup Finals.

    The groom? A cousin of Australia’s Josip Skoko.

    Playing for the win

    The Oceania champions are in the box seat with a draw being enough to guarantee them a place in the next stage of the tournament.

    However, Dutch coach Guus Hiddink denys his side will play for the draw.

    "It's impossible to say, especially to this team, that we sit back and go for a 0-0 draw, it's opposing the character of this team," the future manager of Russia said.

    "This team is going for a win against a high-profile opponent.  It's impossible to be a director of a draw here."

    The Socceroos had another distraction earlier in the week when midfielder Harry Kewell was required to front a FIFA disciplinary tribunal over his attack on German referee Markus Merk after his side’s match against Brazil.

    He was later cleared to play after inconsistencies in the referee’s report.

    Hiddink denied the event would cause any problems for the team.

    "Mentally, Harry's okay. When he came on against Brazil he played a good role and had a chance to score the equaliser," the former South Korean coach said.
    "I think he's up to do a big thing whether it's from the start or later on in the game, but he showed yesterday that he's fully fit mentally and physically.

    Change in tactics

    For Crotia, coach Zlatko Kranjcar has decided to start striker Ivica Olic in an attempt to end his country's goal drought at this World Cup.

    The CSKA Moscow striker will replace the misfiring Ivan Klasnic now that he has recovered from a calf injury.

    All smiles now: Zlatko Kranjcar

    "With regard to Olic, he is now 100 percent fit," the 49 year old coach said.
    "He is better suited to how we will play against the Australians than Klasnic."

    The 26 year old striker will be linking with Glasgow Rangers striker Dado Prso and Kranjcar’s son Niko who plays just behind the strikers.

    "After having analysed the Aussies two systems of playing, I think that ours will put us in a situation where we can at last  provide the decisive pass and score," Kranjcar said.

    The Croatian coach has also said that he will opt for Stjepan Tomas to replace the suspended Robert Kovac.

    His main role will be to mark Socceroos captain Mark Viduka, an old friend from their playing days at Dinamo Zagreb.

    Just good friends

    "He's (Tomas), been a good friend of mine," said the Middlesbrough striker.

    "When I came to play in Zagreb (in the mid-1990s), he and I were both on our own and we were living next to each other and hanging out every day.
    "He's very special and I am very happy for him that he's going to be playing because everyone wants to play in the World Cup, but I will be going out there to win."

    The aggressive style of Australia's defending means we are unlikely to see a repeat of the last game to the two countries played in which the Croatia ran out 7-0 winners.

    With everything to play for it is sure to be a gripping clash.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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