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One of a series. For release at will. World Cup ’90

May 12, 1990

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ As the start of the World Cup approaches, the once-ebullient optimism of Yugoslavia’s soccer team is wilting. More realistic appraisals are gradually sinking in.

The team is known in Europe as ″the exhibition champion″ - deadly in exhibitions but disappointing when it counts.

When they became the first European team to qualify for the World Cup, the Yugoslavs said they were certain to rid themselves of a reputation for choking.

Now team officials say the main goal is to qualify for the second round from the group that also includes West Germany, Colombia and the United Arab Emirates.

″Our main task is to place at least second in the group in which Germans are clear favorites,″ Yugoslavia coach Ivica Osim said, adding that his team has ″to concentrate for the game against Colombia, which will be decisive.″

Yugoslavia faces West Germany in its opening match in Milan on June 10. Out of 24 official games between the two teams, Germans have won 13 and Yugoslavs eight with three ties. Yugoslavia is 2-0 against Colombia and has never played the UAE.

″It will not be tragic if we lose against Germans, but we simply have to beat Colombia,″ Osim said. He expects that the UAE ″will not play a major role in the group.″

Yugoslavia plays Spain on May 29 in Ljubljana and the Netherlands in Zagreb on June 3 in warmup matches. The Yugoslavs started preparations with scoreless ties on the road with Brazil and Poland and a 2-1 loss to England at Wembley.

Even though Osim has not announced the team for Italy, it is expected to include many players from clubs in France, Italy, Portugal and West Germany.

″We have some problems with injuries of some key players, and poor form of some others,″ Osim said.

Among those from the standard lineup who are healing their injuries or slowly returning to the game are winger Zlatko Vujovic of Paris St. Germaine, midfielder Srecko Katanec of Italy’s Sampdoria and talented Red Star Belgrade midfielder Dejan Savicevic.

The team’s performance in the World Cup largely depends on Yugoslavia’s best player, Red Star midfielder Dragan Stojkovic, who has signed for Olympique Marseille. He likes Yugoslavia’s chances.

″I don’t like this defeatistic atmosphere that surrounds our team before the tournament,″ he said. ″We are a strong squad and we have to act like one if we want to play an important role in Italy.″

The team’s strong points are Brazilian-style individual technical abilities. Teamwork, traditionally a weak point of Yugoslav sides, has improved vastly under Osim.

The squad is dangerous whenever it gains the lead, but when trailing the players tend to panic and start playing individually. Osim says that the team, except for Vujovic, lacks speed and sometimes appears to be playing defensively.

Goalkeeper Tomislav Ivkovic, of Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon, can make spectacular saves but sometimes concedes easy goals.

The defense, the weaker part of the team, is anchored by Davor Jozic and Faruk Hadzibegic, who play well in the air but are occasionally slow. Osim still has no solution for left and right defensemen.

The strongest part of the team is its midfield, led by Stojkovic, Savicevic and Safet Susic of Paris St. Germaine, the most experienced Yugoslav player who is masterful in the penalty area. It also includes one of Europe’s most talented young midfielders, Robert Prosinecki of Red Star.

The attack, which generally creates many chances but scores few goals, is almost certain to be led by Red Star center Darko Pancev who leads the Yugoslav league in scoring, and Vujovic on the left wing. The first substitute in the offense is Radmilo Mihajlovic of Bayern Munich.

Yugoslavia has played seven World Cup finals, the last one in Spain in 1982 when it was eliminated in the first round. Its best showing was fourth at Chile in 1962.

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