"Croatia are a force of nature"- says Arrigo Sacchi

"Croatia are a force of nature"- says Arrigo Sacchi

Post by Barry S. Marjanovic » Mon, 06 May 1996 04:00:00

The Times, April 24, 1996:

England coach experiments with adventurous formation against Croatia
by Rob Hughes, Football Correspondent
The world of football is intrigued by England. It sees their might and
their power, but observers might wonder how, at Wembley Stadium tonight,
England will adapt to tactics that they have ignored for almost a decade.

The quality of Robbie Fowler, whom England will *** against Croatia in
his first full international, two weeks after his 21st birthday, is known,
but it is also recognized that Croatia, when fully motivated, are one of
the most awesome teams on the Continent.

"Croatia are a force of nature," Arrigo Sacchi, the Italy coach, said a
couple of nights ago. "On their night, they have so much ability they take
the ball from you and never give it back, which is what happened to us in
Palermo." Sacchi was referring to the night when Croatia went to Italy and
beat the favorites for the European championship, on hostile ground, 2-1.

Make no mistake, Wembley means as much to Croatians as to almost any
footballers on the Continent. It became a mission to many of the team
when, last year, the original match was scrubbed by the Football
Association because of the war in the former Yugoslavia. England, one
feels, would play in the dishcloth if Umbro paid them to do it; Croatia
pull on a shirt designed on the national flag, in red and white squares,
and they do it with the incentive of soldiers.

So when, on Monday night, their players flew in from the seven different
countries in which they perform club duty, each and every one of them at
once asserted at their St Albans hotel their readiness to play. Three of
them, the captain, Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki and Alen Boksic, all
struggling of late with leg injuries, hid any pain they felt yesterday to
prove their capability for Wembley, and the coach, Miroslav Blazevic,
endorsed the players' feelings by immediately refusing an official
reception at the Croatian Embassy, insisting that his men had to be fully
focused, "friendly" or not.

And so, to England. One would never know from Terry Venables's jaunty mood
that he has shaped a team to meet one of the best of opponents after
losing ten of his squad to injuries and diplomatic withdrawals. His
response is sheer boldness, going fully into the tactical approach that he
so admires from Ajax of Amsterdam.

True, Liverppol and Aston Villa have made a success this season of playing
variations on the continental theme of three at the back, but Venables, as
Ajax uniquely do, has chosen only one recognised central defender, Mark
Wright, recalled after almost four years out of the national reckoning,
and for some of those years even out of favour at Liverpool.

Wright, at 32 a proven defender in this mobile "free" role, is flanked to
his right by Gary Neville and to his left by Stuart Pearce, players at
opposite ends of the age and experience spectrum, both of them full backs
required tonight to man-mark Alen Boksic and Davor Suker, who are
regarded as two of the most elusive and predatory strikers in the game.

Certainly, Neville has never come across such a ghosting figure as Boksic,
while Pearce, for all his 63 caps, will wrestle with something extra
special in the tall, guardsman-like, dark-haired Suker, whose
international record is palyed 17, scored 17.

In the heart of midfield, Paul Gascoigne, having made his one-man stand in
favour of venables continuing as national coach, yesterday added a
one-liner: he called on FIFA, the world governing body, to protect him
form the yellow cards of Scottish referees.

His protection on the field tonight will come again from Paul Ince, with
David Platt, returning as captain, adding intelligent care, it is to be
hoped, to prevent Boban from running midfield.

Could this be the last opportunity, some critics ask, for Platt? The man
is 29, and there is one statistic which suggests that it is rash indeed to
write him off: his 26 goals for England, in 56 internationals, are more
than the accumulated total of all the rest of the squad.

The wings of England are entrusted again to the pugnacious Steve Stone, on
the right, and to the effervescent, sometimes hypnotic, Steve McManaman on
the left. Then the strikers: Teddy Sheringham, the sorcerer, and Fowler,
the apprentice. Sheringham has foxed many people, but not Venables.

Sheringham's apparent lack of pace is more than compensated for by his
quickness of mind. He is now a fixture, the withdrawn forward who creates
for others.

"Now I know it's going to happen, I'm well proud." Folwler said. "You get
people who want to be pilots and things like that, but from day one I
wanted to play football, and if the chances come I'll score for England."
His confidence is admirable, but let us not be too hasty tonight in
comparing him to the finished product, Suker.


        ENGLAND                                         CROATIA
       (3-5-1-1)                                        (3-5-2)

D Seaman (Arsenal)                              D Ladic (Croatia, Zagreb)
G Neville (Manchester United)                   I Stimac (Derby County)
M Wright (Liverpool)                            N Jerkan (Oviedo)
S Pearce (Nottingham Forest)                    S Bilic (West Ham United)
S Stone (Nottingham Forest)                     N Jurcevic (Fiebourg)
D Platt (Arsenal)                               R Prosinecki (Barcelona)
P Ince (Internazionale)                         Z Boban (Milan)
P Gascoigne (Rangers)                           A Asanovic (Hajduk, Split)
S McManaman (Liverpool)                         R Jarni (Real Betis)
E Sheringham (Tottenham-Hotspur)                D Suker (Sevilla)
R Fowler (Liverpool)                            A Boksic (Lazio)