Croatia surprises Germany Red card on German helps spark upset, 3-0


LYON, France -- Late in the first half, Croatia's players began making the sign of the cross, putting their hands together prayerfully and looking upward, as if they felt divine intervention would be necessary to defeat mighty Germany in their first trip to the World Cup.

But it was a more earthly arbiter -- the Norwegian referee Rune Pedersen -- who made the most critical decision in yesterday's quarterfinal match that produced a stunning 3-0 victory for Croatia and set up an unexpected semifinal meeting with France on Wednesday.

In the 40th minute of a scoreless game that Germany was dominating and that was becoming increasingly contentious, Pedersen gave a red card to the German defender Christian Worns for a late, open-field tackle of Croatia's star forward, Davor Suker. It was hardly the most vicious of the 54 fouls called, but it changed the course of the game.

Forced to play with 10 men for the final 50 minutes, Germany, a three-time World Cup champion, suffered its largest defeat since a meaningless 8-3 loss to Hungary in the first round of the 1954 World Cup. For the second consecutive time, Germany has exited the World Cup in the quarterfinal round.

There were no comebacks for Germany last night, as there had been against Yugoslavia and Mexico. For the fourth consecutive game, coach Berti Vogts' team failed to score in the first half. Age, and the disputed red card, finally overcame Germany's relentlessness.

Croatia, meanwhile, became the first team since Portugal in 1966 to reach the semifinals on its first trip to the World Cup. Its players are not exactly rookies, however. Four of them played for a united Yugoslavia in the 1990 World Cup, and the roster stocks some of Europe's top club teams.

But there is no diminishing last night's achievement. Croatia, which gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, is second smallest in population only to Jamaica among the Cup's 32 teams, with 4.7 million residents. That compares to 6.2 million registered soccer players in Germany.

"We're very happy with this victory; it's a historical result," said Miroslav Blazevic, the Croatian coach. "A Croatian team has never achieved anything this important."

Defender Dario Simic said: "It is a big, big, big, big, big victory for us. It's a dream. We're a small country. Right now, it's incredible what we've done."

Croatia and Germany enjoy a complicated relationship and a brief, but ill-tempered, soccer history. Croatia's Ustacha regime was a Nazi puppet in World War II, and Germany, along with the Vatican, was the first nation to recognize Croatia's independence from Yugoslavia in 1992.

"There is nothing sweeter than to defeat your friends," Blazevic said before the game.

Blazevic had called for revenge for a dyspeptic match between the two teams in the 1996 European championships, in which the Croatian defender Robert Jarni was ejected and Germany prevailed, 2-1, in the quarterfinals.

Last night, it was Germany that was stung by a red card in the 40th minute when defender Worns took out the legs of Suker and sent him windmilling.

The tackle seemed more clumsy than wicked, but Pedersen apparently issued a red card because the take-down had been made in the open field. Worns put his hands to his head in disbelief.

For the first 32 minutes, Croatia did not even manage a shot on goal, while Germany streamed down the flanks and threatened constantly. But, with Worns out, Germany's spirit visibly deflated.

"The first 30 minutes were the best performance by the German team," defender Juergen Kohler said. "I don't think the sending off was fair. I think we have to say the referee lost the game, not our team."

As the first half extended into three minutes of extra time, Germany's short-handed defense displayed inevitable BTC vulnerability. Mario Stanic, the Croatian midfielder, cleverly pushed the ball to his left to the area vacated by Worns, where Jarni was waiting. Jorg Heinrich tried to pinch in with help from the wing, but all the German midfielder could do was turn his back as Jarni unleashed a searing blast that bounced once and slammed into the right corner of the net from 25 yards out.

Both teams missed repeated chances to score from point-blank range in the second half, and Germany grew more desperate, removing playmaker Thomas Hassler and the free-kick expert Dietmar Hamann as Vogts went with four forwards.

But that left the midfield depleted, and Croatia scored again on a counterattack rocket by Goran Vlaovic in the 80th minute. If that was not dispiriting enough for the Germans, Suker put a shot through the legs of goalie Andreas Kopke in the 85th minute.

"I just can't imagine what we've done," the Croatian midfielder Aljosa Asanovic said. "Maybe in the morning we will understand. Right now it is impossible."

Germany 0 0 -- 0

Croatia 1 2 -- 3

First half--1, Croatia, Jarni, 1, 48th minute.

Second half--2, Croatia, Goran, 1, 80th; 3, Croatia, Suker, 4, 86th.

Yellow cards--Germany, Heinrich, 18th; Tarnat, 37th. Croatia, Simic, 13th; Suker, 57th. Red cards--Germany, Woerns, 40th. Shots at goal--Germany 14. Croatia 16. Shots on goal--Germany 2. Croatia 6. Offsides--Germany 2, Croatia 5. Fouls--Germany 23, Croatia 31. Referee--Pedersen (Norway). Linesmen--Van Den Broeck (Belgium), Nilsson (Sweden).

Pub Date: 7/05/98

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