Argentina Beats Croatia, 1-0, to Stay Perfect
By Tony Czuczka
Friday, June 26, 1998; 11:58 a.m. EDT
BORDEAUX, France Argentina kept a perfect World Cup record Friday, beating Croatia 1-0 to win Group H and its stifling defense remained the only one not to concede a single goal in the first round.
On top of that, a defender made the difference up front too.
In the 36th minute, a deep pass from Daniel Ortega was deflected into the path of defender Hector Pineda on the left, and with the Croatian defense all over the place, Pineda took his time to put the ball past Drazen Ladic.
The best chance in the lackluster Croatian performance came in the 63rd minute when substitute Goran Vlaovic unleashed a 27-meter drive that crashed onto the post, with Carlos Roa well beaten.
For most of the match it was Argentina that provided the action.
On the stroke of half time Marcelo Gallardo almost added a second, when he hit a freekick into the wall and was allowed to line up the rebound from 12 meters, forcing a great save from Ladic.
In the 71st minute, defender Roberto Ayala, who had a great game, slalomed through the Croatian defense and his curling right-foot shot just went the wrong side of the post.
Gabriel Batistuta, the co-top scorer in the competition with four goals had a mediocre game, easily held in control by the Croatian defense.
At the other end, Croatia's Davor Suker was limited to a long-range header, but little else.
The Argentines were quicker of the ball and it showed after the goal, with Croatia being forced to commit several fouls to keep the South Americans at bay.
In the 21st minute, Croatian defender Slaven Bilic was given a yellow card for pulling down Batistuta close to the penalty area.
Two minutes later, Ortega committed a similar foul in the midfield area on his marker Dario Simic and Moroccan referee Said Belqula showed him yellow for shoving.
Argentina's Ayala then got a yellow card for a late tackle on Aljosa Asanovic in the 35th minute.
And in the 44th minute, Zvonimir Soldo got one for a body check on Ortega and it will suspend him for the second-round game. It almost led to the second goal, when Gallardo took the freekick.
Immediately after halftime, captain Zvonimir Boban got another yellow for a late tackle on midfielder Juan Veron. And in the 59th minute, Robert Jarni got yet another for protesting a referee's decision.
Both teams were already assured a place in the second round so the battle centered on who would take first place in Group H.
Croatia was boosted by the return of Boban, who sat out the Japan game with a pulled leg muscle. Veteran defender Igor Stimac, suffering from blistered feet, was the only regular starter missing but came on as a substitute.
After routing Jamaica 5-0 and defeating Japan 1-0, the South Americans only needed a draw to finish atop the group and set up a second-round game with the Group G runner-up most likely England or Colombia.
Croatia, which beat Jamaica only 3-1, can expect to face Romania unless it wins on Friday.
Argentine coach Daniel Passarella replaced AC Parma's Roberto Sensini, who has a pulled leg muscle, with Nelson Vivas. He also rested Jose Chamot, who was facing the threat of suspension because he already received a yellow card in an earlier game.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press