Soccer - Yugoslavs shun politics, say here to win
BRUSSELS, Jun 13, 2000 -- (Reuters) Yugoslavia, the international community's enemy number one just a year ago, takes its place in the Euro 2000 soccer finals on Tuesday with a Group C opener in Charleroi, southern Belgium against Slovenia.
At a news conference on Monday, veteran coach Vujadin Boskov dismissed repeated questions about the political situation back home and the effect it may have on his squad.
"Economics is the real motivation, not politics," he quipped.
Boskov, the tournament's oldest coach at 68, paid tribute to his first opponents who are making their European finals debut, but he dismissed talk of a surprise Slovenian win.
"It wouldn't be a surprise, it would be a catastrophe."
"They are a small country of only 1.9 million people better known for tennis and skiing. They've done really well to get this far," Boskov said.
"(But) we have come here to win and beat every team. We didn't come here to lose."
Boskov said all his players were fit and ready to start. Niggling injuries affecting several players had cleared up and "everyone is now OK."
The coach admitted that his greatest challenge was to get his aging stars who play in six different European leagues, plus Dragan Stojkovic, who plays in Japan for Nagoya Grampus, to unify as a team.
"We have very big players who play in different countries, where there are different cultures, training methods and playing styles. It's not easy to bring them together and get them to give up their club habits," he said, speaking through an interpreter.
Lazio defender and free kick specialist Sinisa Mihajlovic warned commentators not to write off Slovenia.
"Many think they're rank outsiders, but they're wrong. We'll play as well as we can and we want to win but it isn't going to be easy for us," he said.
Stojkovic, the 35-year-old playmaker, said it would be a very tough opening game.
"I have a lot of respect for Slovenian football," he said. "We must take this game seriously, it could be a very difficult match.
"Personally, I'm very happy to be here," said Stojkovic who made his European championships debut back in 1984. "It's a brilliant way to end my career."
"It's a very important competition and we want to be among the best teams," he added.