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Croatia coach faces up to post-Tudor choices

ZAGREB, May 9 (Reuters) - Croatia coach Mirko Jozic will name a 25-man World Cup squad on Friday, but one name which will not be on the list is that of pivotal defender Igor Tudor.

Jozic said last week that at least 16 players had secured a place on the plane to South Korea and Japan but one of those seats would have been reserved for Tudor, who was ruled out of the tournament on Tuesday after being told he must undergo surgery on his ankle.

Known for building tight defences Jozic is likely to call up 24-year-old Josip Simunic of German club Hertha Berlin, who has looked strong since his international debut in November last year.

The defence will be dominated by Bundesliga players, such as Stuttgart's veteran Zvonimir Soldo, Robert Kovac of Bayern Munich or Bayer Leverkusen's Boris Zivkovic.

Bayer's Jurica Vranjes is also likely to be included, despite a lack of international experience, thanks to his excellent passing and his ability to play both in midfield and in a backline now weakened by Tudor's absence.

Another question mark looms over Verona winger Anthony Seric, who reported a slight injury this week, and over two youngsters Jozic had said he would include.

According to local journalists they are likely to be Grashoppers striker Mladen Petric and Bayer's Marko Babic or local club Hajduk's playmaker Mario Carevic.

Wolfsburg striker Tomislav Maric, who was not impressive in his first international game this week but has been regularly on target in the Bundesliga this season, may also be invited but is unlikely to start.

But Aston Villa striker Bosko Balaban, the squad's top scorer in the World Cup qualifiers, and Liverpool midfielder Igor Biscan are likely to miss out on the finals.

The squad will have a week of training in an Austrian Alpine resort between May 12 and 18, before flying to Japan, where they play their first group G game against Mexico on June 3.

Jozic will reduce the squad to 23 for the FIFA deadline on May 21. Croatia will also play Ecuador and Italy in the first round of the finals.
05/09/02 11:26 ET

Copyright 2002 Reuters Limited.
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