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What’s Luck Got to Do With It? Spain Loses to Yugoslavia

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After outplaying Yugoslavia for 90 minutes--as the Spanish coach was quick to point out--Spain lost to Yugoslavia, 2-1 in overtime, Tuesday in the second round of the World Cup.

It hardly mattered that Spain, which before Tuesday had not lost in the tournament, came back from a 1-0 deficit to tie in the 84th minute and send the game into overtime. What mattered was that Yugoslavia’s hard work and resiliency paid off.

The Yugoslavs will play defending champion Argentina in the quarterfinals Saturday in Florence.

Spanish Coach Luis Suarez was almost defiant in defeat, calling his team the better squad and, in one of the tournament’s more ungracious moments, saying that Yugoslavia had merely been luckier, not more skilled.

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“We must agree on this,” he said.

And lucky the Yugoslavs were, lucky to have midfielder Dragan Stojkovic, who scored both of his team’s goals and was clearly the best player on the field.

Lucky they were, too, that the game did not extend beyond the two 15-minute overtime periods in 90-degree heat of late afternoon. Bentegodi Stadium was humid, too, but not because of crowding fans. Officials announced ticket sales of 35,500 but the small municipal stadium was only two-thirds full.

Those who were there saw listless play until late in the second half. The Yugoslavs--called the Brazilians of Europe for their sometimes dazzling creativity--showed that form in scoring their first goal.

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Zlatko Vujovic beat a Spanish defender and sent a pass to Srecko Katanec. Katanec headed the ball up to Stojkovic, who scored in the 78th minute from about eight yards in front of the goal.

Spain came back six minutes later, using similar pinpoint passing. From deep in the Yugoslav penalty area, Rafael Martin Vazquez sent a slashing pass to Julio Salinas, who had an easy tap-in.

Stojkovic scored the winning goal in the first overtime on a free kick he lofted over a five-man wall, putting it softly into the right corner of the net.

The game had its odd moments, but it had nothing on the behavior of the coaches after the match. Yugoslavia’s Ivica Osim has kept his team isolated throughout the tournament and has maintained silence with the media.

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Tuesday, he announced at the postgame news conference that he would make a short statement and would not answer any questions.

His statement:

“It was very hard for our team in the heat. It was a game of difficult introductions. We were in a difficult situation. We won but the Spanish could have. They would have deserved it. It is not saying we were lucky, but we scored more goals.”

With that, Osim fled the room, leaving a gap in the program that translators filled by repeating the statement four times, in five languages, sort of the best of Ivica Osim, although not by request.

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That left more time for Suarez, who made the worst of it. He harped on luck and how it was a factor in the game. And life. And world affairs.

“Every day everyone says we have been lucky,” Suarez said. “We were not lucky today. We are not to be blamed. We have fought, we have played much better than our opponent. The outcome is not fair. We were absolutely unlucky. That is all I can say.”

But it wasn’t. Suarez repeated that Spain deserved to have won, and, statistically and stylistically, he had a strong point. Spain had 19 shots on goal to Yugoslavia’s 12, but the most telling number was of corner kicks--Spain’s 16 to Yugoslavia’s 1. That alone gives some idea of Spain’s field position for most of the game.

“We dominated the game from the beginning to the end,” Suarez said. “We had many more chances. We played very well. But it did not make a difference. The difference in the match was that we were not lucky.”

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Maybe, but Yugoslavia can hardly be called a surprise. The Yugoslavs came into the World Cup undefeated in qualifying and with the best record of any European team. Yugoslavia was second in Group D after the first round, a tough group that included West Germany.

Still, Suarez seemed determined to undermine his opponent.

“The Yugoslavs taught nothing to us,” Suarez said. “Yugoslavia played very well but they were not better than the Spaniards. We must agree on this.”

The Spanish national team beat Yugoslavia on May 26 in a friendly match in Yugoslavia. Suarez warned before Tuesday’s match that the previous meeting “meant nothing.”

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On this we must agree.


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