LUKA PETRINEC / AIPS in FUJAIRAH: After a heavy defeat in the first match against Morocco , Croatia reacted with their first win in the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013.
The young Croats, on the wings of a fine display by Hajduk Split midfielder Elvir Maloku, secured a significant 1-0 victory over a solid and organised Panama to edge closer to the second round.
#Unlike the first game, where they lost 3-1 to Morocco, the Croatia players entered this match motivated and with far more desire to win. They pressed Panama well on the pitch up to the 26th minute when Ante Roguljić presented them with the lead after an assist from Elvir Maloku.
Eight minutes later Maloku was again dangerous, but Panamanian goalkeeper Jaime DeGarcia made a superb save to a fine solo effort.
In the second half Panama substitute Vidal Gonzales was mere centimeters from giving his team a clear opportunity to qualify to the next round but his drive hit the bar and that was closest they came to an equaliser.
One of Panama’s best scorers in this year’s CONCACAF U-17 Championship, Ervin Zorilla, started on the bench, but made some dangerous openings after he joined the game in the 60th minute.
Spectators in the stadium in Fujairah also saw some moves and runs from one of the greatest talents of Europe, Alen Halilovic. But the Dinamo Zagreb player is still not playing at the level expected of his league’s youngest scorer, who is also the youngest debutant for the senior national team.
Panama’s hopes of progressing receded with this loss. In their last appearance in the U-17 World Cup two years ago, they managed go to reach the second round. This time coach Jorge Dely Valdes’ team’s prospects of emulating that finish would have been stronger if they had had the margins on their side. Croatia, on the other side, stand a good chance to advance after their first win.
Ante Roguljic, Croatia’s goalscorer, was happy with the victory from a difficult match. He said: “It was a tough game for us, especially because of the hot weather here. Next match we play three hours later and I’m sure it will be easier. As for the goal I scored, I was convinced that I would.”
Coach Ivan Gudelj, acceting that Halilovic has yet to fulfil his potential in the tournament, said: “Alen at this time is not yet fully ready. If he were, I am convinced that from the chances that he had in first two games he would done better and maybe scored some goals.”
Panama coach Dely Valdes acknowledged that it was now ‘life or death’ for his team. He said: “I told the players before the match that whatever happened, this was not over.
“It is a very complicated situation. Croatia, Morocco and Uzbekistan do already have three points. The third match for us is a life-or-death match. We have to win to have the chance to be one of the best thirds.”