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
``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.