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Euro 2004

GROUP B
Croatia vs. England 2:4

LISBON, Portugal (AP)— England only needs a draw against Croatia to advance to the quarterfinals of the European Championship.

It's been there before - and failed.

And that's something Croatia is more than willing to take advantage on Monday at Lisbon's Stadium of Light.

Four years ago at Euro 2000, England only needed to avoid losing to Romania in Charleroi, Belgium, to advance to the last eight after beating arch rival Germany 1-0. After leading 2-1 early in the second half, England went down 3-2 and was eliminated from the competition.

"We can't afford to get carried away but we are in a position where we need just need to draw," England captain David Beckham said.

"We have been in this position before at the last championships when we beat Germany and ended up losing. It is unthinkable that we should go out at this stage, with the team and the players we've got. We can't even think about going into this game wanting a draw, we must go into it wanting to win."

England's aim is to reach the semifinals, going one better than its quarterfinal berth at the 2002 World Cup, where it lost to 10-man Brazil, the eventual champion.

Croatia, seeking to rediscover its glory days of the 1990s, needs a win over England to advance from Group B. It was lucky not to beat defending champion France on Thursday, rallying from a goal down to take the lead before having to settle in the end for a 2-2 draw.

"Every time France doesn't win a football game it is a surprise," England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson said. "I think they (Croatia) played very, very well and it will be a tough game on Monday for us."

England lost 2-1 to France through two Zinedine Zidane injury time goals in its tournament opener on June 13 and beat Switzerland 3-0 on Thursday in Coimbra. Croatia had a poor start in its opening game against the Swiss, drawing 0-0.

France leads Group B with four points, followed by England (3), Croatia (2) and Switzerland (1). The French play the Swiss Monday.

All the teams still have a theoretical chance of making it into the final eight.

England's edge could be 18-year-old striker Wayne Rooney, who became the youngest ever scorer in European Championship history when he scored twice against the Swiss.

"Rooney and Beckham and the others are brilliant players, but we are playing against the entire team," Croatian coach Otto Baric said.

"Rooney is an exceptional player, but we knew that. We also know exactly how the English team plays and we can, and will, find a solution to stop both Rooney and England."

England's only worry is yellow cards - Rooney, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard and David James all have one and another booking would rule them out of the quarterfinal match.

The Croatians have nine players on a yellow including striker Dado Prso and midfielder Milan Rapaic, who have both scored at this tournament.

England last played Croatia in an Aug. 20 friendly last year in Ipswich. Frank Lampard scored his first international goal as substitute in the 3-1 win.

"I think we know quite a lot about them from watching their players in Europe," Lampard said.

"We know they are dangerous and technically gifted. They always have good players. We know what we will be coming up against and we will have to be ready."

Baric, who this week celebrated his 71st birthday, is convinced Croatia can cause an upset. A quarterfinalist at Euro 1996 and semifinalist at the 1998 World Cup, Croatia is seeking a return to the glory days, when a golden generation starring Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban and Robert Prosinecki could match up to any of the world's top flight teams.

When they retired, the Croats failed to qualify for the Euro 2000 finals and dropped out in the first round of the last World Cup.

"Croatia is a small country up against a giant country that invented soccer and is one of the best in the game, only we believe in our strengths and our chances of winning," Baric said.


Posted on Jun 20, 04 | 11:15 pm

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