Croatia Preview

When the draw for the 2006 World Cup Germany was made last December, there probably wasn’t a fixture that had more riding on it in the first round of matches than the Australia v Croatia clash in Stuttgart.

When the draw for the 2006 World Cup Germany was made last December, there probably wasn-t a fixture that had more riding on it in the first round of matches than the Australia v Croatia clash in Stuttgart.

As has been proven correct, the winner of this clash will most likely earn a berth into the second round, although Japan is still a chance if it can win big against Brazil, which most people think is not likely.

But, while a place in the last 16 is the main aspect for the players, there is also a lot to come out of this game from an emotional point of view. Much has already been made of this throughout the World Cup and it will be interesting to see how it affects those players from both sides.

Six Australian players, captain Mark Viduka, Jason Culina, Josip Skoko, Zeljko Kalac, Tony Popovic and Ante Covic have very strong links to their Croatian heritage, while three Croatian squad members Joe Simunic, Ante Seric and Joey Didulica were all born in Australia and learnt their football in Australia, including at the taxpayer funded Australian Institute of Sport programme in Canberra. Only two of Australia-s six, Viduka and Culina are likely to start, while Simunic is the only one to start for Croatia.

Many of the players from both sides are friends, with the Stjepan Tomas, the man brought into the Croatian side for suspended Robert Kovac to mark Viduka, a close personal friend of the Aussie captain.

But while there might be some emotions when the national anthems are playing, once the match kicks off the professionalism of the players will soon take over, because at stake is a much bigger prize - a place in the last 16.

For Australian football this would be a massive achievement, in a group that most said was among the toughest at this years finals.

While the team has already received some plaudits for its play, the players themselves don-t see it that way and anything other than qualifying for the second round will not be considered adequate, especially as they hold the upper hand.

Australia needs only to draw with Croatia and will likely advance to the next phase that is unless Japan pull something completely out of left field and beat Brazil by three goals. A Croatia win will see them advance ahead of Australia.

As mentioned above, Croatia will be without experienced defender Kovac, who is considered the heart of the defensive unit, with Tomas coming in to take his place.

For Australia only Popovic is unavailable due to a calf injury, sustained in the loss to Brazil, with Harry Kewell escaping a sanction from the FIFA disciplinary hearing following his outburst at Markus Merk after the match. No doubt Kewell will be keen to make up for his reprieve.

Croatia is a very talented side and won through group stage very comfortably and have high hopes of doing very well in this tournament.

However they have yet to score a goal in their two matches, this despite creating many good chances in both matches. There is no doubt that Australia-s defence will have to be on its toes throughout, with the main danger coming from Dado Prso and Ivica Olic, who will start the third game.

They feel they are due a goal or two, but equally, Australia-s defence believe they are due a clean sheet, after solid efforts against Japan and Brazil.

While Croatia-s coach Zlatko Kranjcar has only made the two changes, Hiddink will not reveal his side to the day of the game and going by the past two games, their could be one or two surprises.

This will be a huge night for either side, but if Australia can reproduce their form of the first two games there is no reason why they can-t win this game outright, or get the point they need.

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