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Yugoslavia needs to beat U.S. by a lot.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Tuesday, June 23, 1998) -- The United States talked about goal-differential before meeting Iran, saying it needed to win by a large margin to stay in contention for a Group F top two finish and advancement to the second round of the World Cup.

The Americans not only didn't win big -- as it turns out a victory by any margin would have had the same effect -- they lost.

Now the shoe is on the other foot in France '98 as Yugoslavia is talking about goal-differential and winning big in the Group F final game Thursday in Nantes -- against the United States. "I think we can score more goals against the United States than Germany can against Iran," the Associated Press quoted Yugoslav midfielder Slavisa Jokanovic saying today. "A simple victory may not be enough for the first place."

Germany and Yugoslavia both are at four points atop the standings, with Germany holding a plus-one goal differential edge. Who finishes No. 2 is important since that team will face the Group E winner in the second round, likely to be the powerful Netherlands. Iran is still in the picture, too, with three points, but no one regards them as a serious threat to Germany.

"We shouldn't downplay the Americans," assistant Yugoslav coach Vujadin Boskov said. "Their running and high morale even when they are losing are impressive. But they don't have a team leader. It won't be easy, but our main aim is to beat them by as many goals as possible."

The injuries of several Yugoslav players have hampered preparations ahead of the match against the United States. Central defender Miroslav Djukic, left back Zoran Mirkovic and striker Darko Kovacevic will not play.

But star midfielder Dejan Savicevic, who missed the first two matches, said Tuesday he feels much better after a knee ligament injury he suffered while playing for AC Milan in Italy. "I don't know if I'll be in the team against the Americans, it depends on coaches, but certainly I'll be back on the pitch in the following round," he said.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.