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8 June 2002, 19:41 Seoul - Tokyo
ITALY 1 : 2 CROATIA
With under twenty minutes left, Croatia were down 1-0 in Ibaraki, Japan and facing elimination from the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. But, against the vaunted Italian defence, the third place finishers four years ago rallied for two goals in three minutes and held on against late pressure to rescue their hopes of advancing to the next round.
Substitute Ivica Olic equalized Christian Vieris third goal of the tournament - a splendid second-half header - before Milan Rapaic gave the Eastern Europeans a stunning victory. The loss not only breaks a 12 match unbeaten run in the FIFA World Cup for Italy but leaves them now even with three points on top of Group G with both Croatia and Mexico. The Italians face Mexico next, while Croatia take on Ecuador.
Italy jumped out to an early lead in their first match against Ecuador and looked to do so again when Stjepan Tomas fouled Francesco Totti just outside the penalty area. But Tottis free kick was blocked by the Croatian wall (3).
Cristiano Doni created an excellent chance out of nothing with Croatias Robert Kovac all over his backside. Doni out-muscled Kovac to gain possession inside the penalty area and only a fantastic diving save by goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa kept Italy scoreless (15).
Croatia put their first test on Gianluigi Buffon when Davor Vugrinec launched a 25-metre half-volley, but the Italian keeper was properly positioned and made the easy save (22).
Vugrinec had an even better opportunity after working a quick one-two with Milan Rapaic at the top of the area. Stepping in on the right side, Vugrinec sent a bouncing shot on Buffon that the keeper batted off Marco Materazzi, but the defender, who had just replaced Alessandro Nesta, was able to recover before the ball rolled over the line (26).
Croatia forced another save from Buffon, this time on the counter-attack. Rapaics low 12-metre effort from the left side was snared by the Juventus keeper (45).
Hard tackles from both teams were plentiful in the opening half and there were more than a few scoring chances. It seemed a goal was to come, but the question was whether one would be enough.
Christian Vieri thought he had netted his third goal of the tournament early in the second half, but after his close-range diving header found the net, the Inter Milan forward was judged to have been offside (50).
Minutes later he did have a third as he out-leapt Josip Simunic at the back post to reach Donis cross and loft a header over Pletikosa (1:0, 55).
Following the goal, Croatia brought on midfielder Jurica Vranjes and forward Ivica Olic to spark the attack. And it would be Olic who would eventually get them level. Robert Jarni served a dangerous cross in front of the Italian goal that Olic gently knocked past Buffon with his right foot (1:1, 73).
Croatia continued in the attack and just three minutes later they were ahead. Rapaic had a cross knocked away, but the ball was returned to him just inside the penalty area from the head of Niko Kovac. Rapaic brought the ball down with his chest and while falling lifted a partially deflected left-foot shot over a helpless Buffon (1:2, 76).
A well-struck free kick by Totti almost brought Italy back, but his 25-metre drive caromed off the near post, behind a stationary Pletikosa and through the other side of the goal box out of danger (87).
With stoppage time approaching, Pletikosa was called upon again when he dived high to his right to spoil Gianluca Zambrottas attempt to equalise (89).
Just as they had early in the half, Italy thought they had another goal denied by the assistant referees flag. Filippo Inzaghi chased down a long pass inside the area, causing enough confusion for Pletikosa to have it skip by him into the empty net. But Inazghi was ruled offside when the referee deemed the ball was played off Vieris head (92).