When bitter enemies Yugoslavia and Croatia meet in a Euro 2000 qualifier today, it will be more than a soccer game. It could be a prelude to more political troubles in Serbia.

"We shouldn't hide it: This won't be only sports," Croatian Coach Miroslav Blazevic said. "Every victory of the Croatian team is a victory for its peoples."

The match at Red Star stadium in Belgrade will be the first between the two soccer-crazy nations since the former Yugoslavia broke up in a bloody civil war. Now, Yugoslavia, made up of Serbia and Montenegro, and Croatia, a former Yugoslav republic, have separate and top European soccer squads.

"We don't want this to become a political game, but the circumstances are such that it has already been branded as a match for the national pride," Yugoslav Coach Vujadin Boskov said. "Whoever wins will have something to be proud of in front of their nation."

The game, which will be played in front of a sellout crowd of 70,000, was originally scheduled for March 27, but was postponed because of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. . . .

Marcos Chontel scored in the sixth round of a shootout to give the Northern Virginia Royals a 2-1 win over the South Carolina Shamrocks last night and a berth in the second round of the USL Division 3 pro league playoffs. The game at Annandale High was tied at 1 after 90 minutes of regulation and one 15-minute overtime period.

The Royals took the lead in the 41st minute on a goal from Gustavo Donolo, but South Carolina tied it in the second half on a goal by Jerome Lae Yaw. The Royals will play the Charlotte Eagles on Saturday in Charlotte. . . .

Peru was added to the 12-team field for February's CONCACAF Gold Cup, the championship of soccer's North and Central American and Caribbean region. Colombia and South Korea also have been invited to the tournament, which includes the United States, defending champion Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.


Seles, Hingis Advance

Monica Seles, going for her fifth straight du Maurier Open title, had to rally last night in Toronto for a 6-7 (7-4), 6-1, 6-1 victory over Russian qualifier Tatiana Panova last night. In another second-round match, Martina Hingis beat Corina Morariu, 6-0, 6-3, in 54 minutes. Hingis will meet 16th-seeded Chanda Rubin, a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 winner over Nathalie Dechy of France.

In other matches, third-seeded Mary Pierce of France and sixth-seeded Amanda Coetzer of South Africa advanced to the third round. Pierce beat Ruxandra Dragomir of Romania, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3, and Coetzer defeated countrywoman Joannette Kruger, 6-1, 6-2. . . .

Third-seeded Gustavo Kuerten cruised to a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Sjeng Schalken in the Brazilian's debut at the RCA Championships in Indianapolis.

Meanwhile, fourth-seeded Carlos Moya of Spain struggled with both his serve and Daniel Vacek of the Czech Republic before prevailing, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6).

In night play, Mark Philippoussis's return from a knee injury ended abruptly when the fifth-seeded Australian was toppled by France's Arnaud di Pasquale, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1. Philippoussis became the sixth seed eliminated in the first two days of the tournament.

Top-ranked Pete Sampras and No. 4 Patrick Rafter play their first matches today.


Browns Return Home

The Cleveland Browns packed up their equipment, boarded buses and went on their shortest trip of the season yesterday--just up the road to play in their brand-new home.

Actually, it took them three years to get there.

The players got to practice in the new Cleveland Browns Stadium for the first time, a dress rehearsal for Saturday night's preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings.

As workers continued putting the finishing touches on the state-of-the-art, 72,000-seat facility, the Browns took the field for their afternoon practice after working out in the morning at their training facility in Berea.

A crowd estimated at 25,000 watched the team's two-hour practice. The fans roared as the Browns' defense jogged toward the famed Dawg Pound, Cleveland's bleacher section of 10,000, which has been replicated and remodeled in the new stadium.

Track and Field

IAAF Retains Nebiolo

Despite rumors of poor health and repeated complaints about his autocratic style, Primo Nebiolo will be reelected president of track and field's world governing body for a sixth term.

When the International Amateur Athletic Federation begins its two-day Congress meetings on the eve of the world championships, Nebiolo, 76, will be the only candidate on the ballot.


Kuchar Misses Cut

Matt Kuchar, winner of the 1997 U.S. Amateur Championship, shot an 81 and missed the cut after two rounds of stroke play at this year's championships on the Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill course in California. Gene Elliott, president of a heavy machinery company in West Des Moines, Iowa, had the best two-day score, even-par 143.


Crowell, District 7 Win

Clarisa Crowell (McDonough High) and Devin Karcesky (Northern) combined to pitch a no-hitter to lead Maryland District 7 past the California state champion team, 17-0, at the Big League World Series in Kalamazoo, Mich. Southern Maryland played the host Michigan team last night.