In its opening match at the 2006 World Cup, the Croatian squad fought shoulder to shoulder with tournament favourites Brazil but ended a goal short.
By Jovan Djerich for Southeast European Times in Novi Sad -- 14/06/06
Brazilian forward Ronaldo (left) is tackled by Croatian defender Igor Tudor during the World Cup 2006 Group F football game Brazil vs Croatia on Tuesday (13 June) at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. [Getty Images]
Croatia put in a valiant effort in its opening 2006 World Cup match Tuesday (13 June), but a strike by Kaka in 44th minute gave highly favoured Brazil their first three points on the road to defending their title. Some 72,000 fans at Berlin's Olympiastadion enjoyed a quality performance by some of the world’s finest players as the Vatreni gave the Brazilian stars a run for their money.
With the first half a salvo of attempts from both sides, Brazil gained an advantage in shots on target. Then, just as halftime approached, Kaka demonstrated why he is one of the brightest stars in football today. With a minute to go, he overcame Croatian keeper Pletikosa, who was unable to save his net from a top left-hand projectile Kaka sent from outside the penalty area.
The second half began and ended with strikes by Croatian players. All they needed was a little luck to equalize in the only statistical category where the Brazilians outplayed them -- goals. It didn't happen. Prso, Klasnic, Olic, Babic and Kranjcar all had their chances, but all failed to beat Brazilian goalkeeper Dida.
Meanwhile his Croatian counterpart, Stipe Pletikosa, making his 50th appearance for his team, came under intense pressure. Just after the 60th minute, Pletikosa made the best save of the match when he caught a header attempt by Ronaldinho.
In the 41st minute, Croatian coach Kranjcar was forced to change his captain, Niko Kovac, due to an injury. Later on, Kranjcar made another substitution as Olic replaced Klasnic in the 56th minute. On the other side, Brazilian coach Pareira put on Robinho 21 minutes before the end of the game, replacing Ronaldo -- who was far from the level that earned him the title of world's best player a couple years ago.
Brazil now has won a record eight consecutive matches, a World Cup record. Kaka earned the title "Man of the match", not just for his admirable goal and an excellent try in the 74th minute, but for the constant threat he represented for the Croatian net.
"In addition to the fact that the team hasn't played a lot together, we faced an adversary that was good...and marking very well, with energy. I think the game was balanced, we had more shots on goal but we had a certain difficulty imposing our own rhythm," Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said after the match.
In first Group F match on Monday Australia beat Japan 3-1. Next Sunday, Brazil will take on group leaders Australia, while the Croats will have chance to salvage their campaign in 90 minutes against Japan.