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Boksic ready to make up for lost time

By Karen Iley

TOKAMACHI, Japan, May 30 (Reuters) - A relaxed and fully-fit Alen Boksic, making his World Cup debut at the age of 32, is confident he can help Croatia emulate their achievement in 1998.

After finishing third in France four years ago, Croatian expectations are extremely high, but while fans are hoping for even more from Boksic, the striker is not feeling weighed down by the responsibility.

"I don't feel any pressure -- I'm too old to feel pressure," Boksic told Reuters on Thursday. "I'm here just to play football, to enjoy myself and to get a good result."

Boksic missed the last World Cup and the 1996 European championships through injury, but he is determined to make his mark this time round.

"It's my first big competition. I'm very happy and I'm very excited," he said.

Partnered with Davor Suker up front, the experienced duo could present a formidable strike force.

Suker, the World Cup's top scorer in France four years ago, is hoping to repeat the feat in South Korea and Japan, and Boksic is happy to leave the Golden Boot ambition to his team mate.

"Suker is certainly the best scorer within our team and I think he's one of the best scorers in the world," Boksic said. "For us he's the most important player because he has great capabilities and technically, he's fantastic.

"I wish him well. I hope he will repeat his record."

Boksic, who had been suffering from a stomach strain, is back to full fitness and happy with his performances in training.

"I had a problem with my abdominal muscle but it was a problem just for two or three days," he said. "I'm fine now, I've trained well in the last few days and I'm feeling really good physically."

Croatia meet Mexico in their group G opener on June 3, a game Boksic, who plays his club football in England for Middlesbrough, believes will set the tone for the side's performance in the rest of the first phase.

"For us the most dangerous match is against Mexico," he said. "It's the first match so it's the most important because if we win, we have a fantastic opportunity to go to the second round."

But Croatia's second game, against Italy on June 8, promises to be the most exciting.

"Italy are a big side, a big name, but for me it is not the deciding game. It will be a good spectacle but it is not the most important," Boksic said.

Realistically, Croatia could make it to the next round, with Italy certainly the group favourites, but Boksic is not thinking much further ahead.

"Our target is to get through to the second round. That would be a good result for us and we should make it. After that, anything is possible."
05/30/02 01:59 ET

Copyright 2002 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
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