Croatia's Success, Suker's Success Uplifting

Croatia's Success, Suker's Success Uplifting

Post by Barry S. Marjanovic » Mon, 13 Jul 1998 04:00:00

   By Norman Da Costa

   Suker's success uplifting

   PARIS - It's said there's no glory in finishing third.

   Try telling that to Croatia.

   In its first World Cup appearance, Croatia finished third and won the
   hearts of soccer fans by defeating the Netherlands 2-1 in a thrilling
   encounter at Parc des Princes yesterday.

   Reaching this pedestal after being an independent nation for only
   eight years is something no other country has achieved in such a short

   Some 9,000 Croatians perished in the war for independence from
   Yugoslavia. Today, the small nation of fewer than 5 million can be
   proud of the performance of its national team over the last month.

   The thousands of fans who journeyed here wearing white-and-red
   checkered shirts cried, hugged and waved the Croatian flag to salute
   their heroes.

   ``Ja te Volim Hrvatska (I love you, Croatia)!'' exclaimed Igor Barto,
   who lives in Paris.

   ``We can proudly boast of our Croatian nationality and our flag. White
   comes from the Croatians who came from Persia, and the red is for
   those who came from Poland.''

   The celebrations weren't confined to Paris. Thousands more took to the
   streets of Zagreb and other Croatian cities.

   The man who made this dream happen was none other than star striker
   Davor Suker, who scored the winner and moved his goal total to six for
   the tournament. This puts him in line for the Golden Boot award as the
   World Cup's top scorer, unless Brazilian superstar Ronaldo scores
   twice against France today to earn a share of the prize.

   Suker led the Croatian team around the stadium to thank supporters.
   Finishing third didn't seem all that bad, although every Croatian
   would have loved to see the team in today's final.

   ``Our people have suffered so much pain, so many tears,'' Suker said.
   ``It has always been a privilege to be part of a dream, and what we
   did here is very difficult for me to describe. It's been wonderful.''

   Suker was tabbed for stardom at an early age when he played for
   Yugoslavia's World Cup junior team in the '80s, scoring six goals.

   The war interrupted his career before he hooked up with Croatia.

   He wasn't really an unknown coming to France, but he'd had an awful
   season with Real Madrid, spending much of his time on the bench. But
   Croatian coach Miroslav Blazevic placed his faith in the 30-year-old
   and started him.

   The move paid rich dividends. Suker, with clinical finishing with both
   feet, didn't let him down.

   All three goals in yesterday's third-place game were superb.

   Suker, left with yards of space as the Dutch hunted for the net,
   thundered in a left-footer from inside the penalty area that
   goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar could only admire as it hit the netting.

   Robert Prosinecki had put the Croats ahead on a piece of individual
   artistry after 13 minutes, and Dutch winger Boudewijn Zenden scored
   one of the tournament's best goals with a curling shot after a great
   run. Then came Suker's coup de grace in the 35th minute.

   Suker and his Croatian teammates have left their mark on soccer's
   highest stage and are a force to reckoned with at the European soccer
   championships in 2000 - and the 2002 World Cup.
   The Toronto Star.