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Croatia's Glory Fades With 1-0 Loss

June 14, 2002|Mike Penner

From third in the World Cup in 1998 to third in its first-round group in 2002, Croatia completed a disappointing stay in Japan on Thursday with a 1-0 loss to Ecuador in Yokohama.

Book-ending an inspired performance in a 2-1 upset of Italy were drab 1-0 losses to Mexico and Ecuador, previously winless in its first World Cup appearance. The loss to Ecuador was especially damaging to Croatia on a night when Italy tied Mexico, 1-1, finishing Group G play with four points. With a victory over Ecuador, Croatia would have had six points, enough to reach the second round.

"It was quite disappointing," Croatian midfielder Mario Stanic said. "The team could do better, but the team didn't show their quality from the game against Mexico [onward]. It was strange, but both Argentina and France are going home as well."

Ecuador scored its historic victory on a 48th-minute goal by Edison Mendez, coming off an assist by Agustin Delgado. Croatia had four scoring chances in the final five minutes, but goalkeeper Jose Cevallos and the Ecuador defense combined to turn each of them away.

"We have progressed a lot," said Ecuador Coach Hernan Dario Gomez, whose team finished 1-2-0 with three points. "We have improved day by day and we have learned a lot."

Alen Boksic, Croatia's veteran forward, summed up his team's performance in the tournament aptly with his own self-assessment.

"I wanted to play better today than last match," he said. "Unfortunately, I played even worse. I don't know why this is so. I can't explain now what went wrong."

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