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Croatia Achieves 'Historic Result'

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 5, 1998; Page D1

 German players, from left, Thomas Hassler, Juergen Klinsmann, Juergen Kohler and Jorg Heinrich, surround referee Rune Pedersen after he sent off Christian Worns in the first half. (Roberto Pfeil/Reuters)
LYON, France, July 4 — As the final seconds ticked away on Croatia's 3-0 victory over Germany in a World Cup quarterfinal tonight, a Croatian flag about the size of the country it represents was unfurled from the upper deck of Stade de Gerland. Franjo Tudjman, president of the young nation, stood and cheered from his sideline seat. Bright red flares were set off in a corner section where delirious Croatian supporters spilled all over each other in celebration.

Croatia, an independent country for only seven years since its break from Yugoslavia, continued to make World Cup history by advancing further than any rookie team since Portugal went to the 1966 semifinals. Its next moment in the global spotlight will come Wednesday against France in Saint-Denis.

"I'm absolutely delighted with this result," Coach Miroslav Blazevic, Tudjman's close friend, said while wearing a "Proud To Be A Croat" T-shirt. "It has to be considered a historic result. Never has Croatia come so far and done so much."

But it wasn't without controversy. With the game scoreless late in the first half, German defender Christian Woerns was given a red card for a hard tackle in the open field on star forward Davor Suker. It left Germany shorthanded for the final 50-plus minutes and allowed the skilled Croatians to carve apart its defense.

Robert Jarni scored just before halftime with a blistering 25-yard shot, Goran Vlaovic connected on a similar blast with 10 minutes left and Suker capped the raucous evening with a clever strike five minutes from the end.

"It's a great shame," German defender Juergen Kohler grumbled. "It's not fair to lose this way. I guess we have to say the referee [Rune Pedersen of Norway] lost the game, not the team."

Germany, a three-time champion, was eliminated in the quarterfinals for the second consecutive time, and again by an unheralded Eastern European opponent. Bulgaria pulled the upset in 1994 at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Tonight also marked the Germans' worst World Cup loss in 44 years and probably meant the end of a spectacular era led by defender Lothar Matthaeus and forward Juergen Klinsmann, who have hinted at retirement from the national team.

For Croatia, it's just the beginning. "It's big, big, big, big, big — a very big victory for us," defender Dario Simic said. "We are a small country [population 4.7 million] and right now it's incredible what we've done."

Although no one-except maybe the extremely confident Blazevic-predicted a semifinal appearance in its World Cup debut, Croatia's rise in international soccer was expected. Most of the players make a living in the prestigious leagues throughout Europe, two players had appeared in the 1990 World Cup for Yugoslavia, and the team had advanced to the quarterfinals of the 1996 European championships before being eliminated by Germany.

Tonight the teams got tangled in a brutally physical match, with elbows to the neck, intentional trips, face-to-face confrontations, shirt-tugging and theatrical spills to the turf. In the 40th minute, Pedersen decided he had seen enough and ejected Woerns for smashing into Suker's left knee. Suker returned, Woerns headed to the locker room.

"Until the sending-off incident, Germany was playing better," German Coach Berti Vogts said. "We had the upper hand."

Said Matthaeus: "The red card was clearly not a red card . . . but we have to take responsibility for the loss."

Three minutes into injury time of the first half, Jarni — a 1990 World Cup veteran — drilled a left-footed shot from outside the penalty area that skipped past diving goalkeeper Andreas Koepke and into the lower right corner.

Early in the second half, Croatia goalie Drazen Ladic made a spectacular save on Oliver Bierhoff's eight-yard volley and Croatia missed several opportunities to increase the lead. Finally, in the 80th minute, Vlaovic calmly ripped a low shot from just outside the box, another one-hopper, that Koepke couldn't reach as it settled into the far corner.

Later, with Germany realizing another stirring comeback wasn't going to happen, Suker danced around two defenders near the end line, pulled the ball back and belted it under the desperate goalie for his fourth goal of the tournament.

"It's true, after the player [Woerns] was taken off, it became easier for us," Blazevic said. "But I don't think in any way does it take anything away from our result."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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