Ten-man Yugoslavia took a giant step towards the Euro 2000 quarter-finals after an early goal by Savo Milosevic gave them a 1-0 win over Norway in an ill-tempered Group C match on Sunday.
After the match, Norway coach Nils Johan Semb accused the Yugoslavs of "sabotage" following an often farcical second half colored by a flurry of cards and riddled with fouls, play-acting and off-the ball incidents.
Vujadin Boskov's side were forced to hang on for the final five minutes of the match after the dismissal of Mateja Kezman in the 88th minute for an ugly foul on Erik Mykland precisely 44 seconds after he came off the bench.
At the end of an increasingly bitter confrontation, six players had been booked and one expelled.
Mykland and Eirik Bakke were shown yellows for Norway, while Scottish referee Hugh Dallas also took the Yugoslav names of Slavisa Jokanovic, Vladimir Jugovic, Ljubinko Drulovic and Albert Nadj.
"I think the ball was only in play for about 15 minutes in the second period which is probably a new world record," fumed Semb.
"I am very upset - as are my players - by the Yugoslav tactics. This is not my idea of football, watching players rolling around on the ground for minute after minute, after minute, after minute, after minute."
Semb said Dallas should have stamped his authority on the game from the outset. Dallas was involved in controversy earlier in the tournament when he awarded a questionable penalty for Italy against Turkey
"It is the first time I have experienced tactics like that," said Semb. "I have seen it on television but the referee needs to show a yellow and then a red card if it happens again to put a stop to these incidents.
"We couldn't find our rhythm because of the antics of the Yugoslavs. I thought the referee got tricked by them too much but it's not his fault we lost 1-0 and I am very disappointed."
Yugoslavia, showing six changes from the starting line-up in the 3-3 draw with Slovenia, now top the group on four points above Spain and Norway who both have three.
Yugoslavia now face Spain - who beat Slovenia 2-1 earlier in the day - in their final group match on Wednesday while Norway will qualify if they beat the Slovenes on the same day.
Yugoslav coack Boskov, the most experienced of all the managers at Euro 2000, provoked sighs of exasperation and ironic laughs at the post-match press conference when he dodged questions about whether his team had played fairly.
Three times he was asked whether he thought Yugoslavia had played the match in the right spirit, and three times he answered with comments about the technical skills of his players.
Yugoslavia, who recalled veteran Dragan Stojkovic to the side but left out Lazio midfielder Dejan Stankovic, went in front in the eighth minute.
Ljubinko Drulovic fired over a freekick from the right and Milosevic, fighting off marker Dan Eggen, and with his back to goal, managed to flick the ball into the net with the faintest of touches.
That put Milosevic on three goals for the tournament and he shares the lead in the Euro 2000 goalscoring standings with Slovenia's Zlatko Zahovic.
Norway, 1-0 winners over Spain in their opening match, immediately countered when Mykland carved out a fine opening for Tore Andre Flo whose measured shot was well saved by Ivica Kralj.
But Krajl's counterpart in the Norwegian goal also distinguished himself, notably with a flying save from Predrag Mijatovic.
The game quickly became a fractious affair and first Jokanovic was cautioned for a strong challenge on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and then Mykland too was yellow carded for a robust challenge.
The match threatened to boil over in the second half as Jugovic and Drulovic were both cautioned for fouls.
Jugovic had two good chances to stretch Yugoslavia's lead with drives from 25 yards but both efforts flew straight to Myhre.
With 15 minutes remaining Milosevic’s shot was inches wide but Norway almost snatched a late equaliser.
John Carew - a substitute for Steffen Iversen who had taken a blow to the nose in an aerial challenge moments earlier - saw his shot whistle past the upright after a fine pass from Solskjaer -- (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)