Croatia confident it can stun Brazil in opener

The Associated Press
Croatia confident it can stun Brazil in opener
.

View gallery

SAO PAULO (AP) -- A confident Croatia is ready to spoil Brazil's party in their World Cup opener and continue a long tradition of first match upsets at the tournament.

With all the pressure on the host team, Croatia coach Niko Kovac said Wednesday that his team can deliver a ''historic result'' in Thursday's match in Sao Paulo.

Kovac acknowledged that Brazil is the clear favorite in the Group A game, but added that few teams would like to face his squad either.

''They are not going to have it easy against Croatia,'' he said at Itaquerao Stadium. ''We are a tricky side and I am sure that we will show that and demonstrate that tomorrow.''

Even a draw would significantly enhance Croatia's chances of advancing from a group that also includes Mexico and Cameroon.

It would also deliver a blow to Brazil - a clear tournament favorite - and join the list of opening game upsets that include Belgium's defeat of defending champion Argentina in 1982 and holder Italy being held to a 1-1 draw by Bulgaria four years later. Cameroon then defeated defending champion Argentina in 1990 while reigning champion France lost in 2002 to a Senegal side making its first appearance at the World Cup.

''I am sure and convinced that tomorrow this team can create a historic result,'' Kovac said.

The team has surprised before.

Back in 1998, no one believed that Croatia - still recovering from a bloody civil war in the Balkans in the early 1990s - could possibly finish third in its maiden World Cup. But with Real Madrid striker Davor Suker leading the way, it did.

The current squad includes top players like Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric and Sevilla captain Ivan Rakitic, who earlier Wednesday told Croatian media he would be joining Barcelona next season - where he will team up with Neymar, his opponent on Thursday.

However, Croatia will have to face Brazil without prolific Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic, who is suspended after being red-carded during Croatia's playoff against Iceland last November - the team's final hurdle on its way to the World Cup.

Team captain Darijo Srna said Croatia would rely on its fighting spirit in Thursday's opener.

''I can't promise that we will beat Brazil but I can promise that we will give our all, to the last atom of strength,'' he said.

The team's notoriously boisterous fans appeared equally optimistic.

Dino Bijac, a 40-year-old Croatian fan draped in his country's red checkered jersey in downtown Sao Paulo, said his team could surprise with a draw, maybe even a win.

''We're not looking to ruin the party. We expect to have a party of our own,'' he said, as a passenger from a car cruising by defiantly screamed ''Brazil'' in his direction. ''We are ready to surprise.''

----

Follow Aron Heller on Twitter (at)aronhellerap

Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Hockey
Sorry you didn't like this comment. Please provide a reason below.

Are you sure?
Rating failed. Try again.
Request failed. Try again.
We will promote constructive and witty comments to the top, so everyone sees them!
Sorry, we can’t load comments right now. Try again.
    • Is racism legal in France? - asks Balotelli

      Is racism legal in France? - asks Balotelli

      A furious Mario Balotelli asked fans if racism was "legal in France" after the Nice striker accused Bastia supporters of abusing him during his team's 1-1 Ligue 1 draw on Friday, prompting a French League investigation. "Yesterday the result … More »

      Reuters - 31 minutes ago
    • Frequent Iniesta injuries a problem for Barca coach Luis Enrique

      Frequent Iniesta injuries a problem for Barca coach Luis Enrique

      By Richard Martin BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said on Saturday that his team are never quite the same without midfield maestro Andres Iniesta who will again be missing when they visit Eibar on Sunday, needing a win to keep up … More »

      Reuters - 32 minutes ago
    • Is racism legal in France? - asks Balotelli

      Is racism legal in France? - asks Balotelli

      A furious Mario Balotelli asked fans if racism was "legal in France" after the Nice striker accused Bastia supporters of abusing him during his team's 1-1 Ligue 1 draw on Friday, prompting a French League investigation. "Yesterday the result … More »

      Reuters - 34 minutes ago
    • French league responds after Mario Balotelli racially abused

      French league responds after Mario Balotelli racially abused

      The French league will open an investigation after Nice striker Mario Balotelli spoke out against Bastia fans he said made monkey noises during a match on Friday night. In a brief statement Saturday afternoon, the French League said it ''deplored … More »

      AP - Sports - 34 minutes ago
    • Liverpool title challenge dented by Swansea sensation

      Liverpool title challenge dented by Swansea sensation

      REUTERS - Liverpool were on the end of the biggest sensation of the Premier League season when bottom club Swansea City repelled a dramatic comeback from Juergen Klopp's title chasers to earn their first-ever league win at Anfield on Saturday. The … More »

      Reuters - 34 minutes ago