Sunday 17 February 2019

Croatia boss echoes Luka Modric claims and says England media showed disrespect ahead of semi-final

Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic, right, celebrates with Luka Modric after beating England
Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic, right, celebrates with Luka Modric after beating England

Matt Slater

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has echoed the claims made by Dejan Lovren and Luka Modric that his side had "extra motivation" to beat England on Wednesday because of disrespect from the English media.

Speaking after Croatia's semi-final win over England, Lovren said he had been annoyed about questions related to a poor performance he had for Liverpool against Harry Kane's Tottenham last autumn, while Modric told ITV that "English journalists, pundits from television" had underestimated Croatia.

The Real Madrid star, who was repeatedly and universally praised in the British media in the build-up to the game, said they should "be more humble and respect opponents more".

Speaking to reporters a day after his side's historic win, Dalic said: "There is always some extra motivation and we always respect our opponents.

"Maybe the English team should have respected us more, especially when you consider where our players play their football, but this is football and sport.

"Maybe there was an element of extra motivation because of (comments in the English media), but there was also motivation to play in the final and make our fans and the country happy."

Dalic was asked by international reporters if his side would be tired for Sunday's final against France after playing extra-time for a third straight match - just as British journalists asked him if they would be tired after two lots of extra-time before the semi-final.

The 51-year-old gave a similar response, saying any fatigue his players might feel would be cancelled out by the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity they had to win a World Cup, although he did admit that Croatia have taken a "difficult path" and will effectively have played a game more than France, who also have an extra day to recover from their semi-final on Tuesday.

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Asked if he was concerned about N'Golo Kante's ability to stifle Modric or France's ability to soak up pressure and then hit teams on the break, Dalic said he was aware of Les Bleus' threat but was confident in his own players.

A former midfielder, Dalic repeated his claim that Croatia's progress to Russia 2018's final was "a miracle" considering the country's population of just over four million people, its young but troubled history and the relative poverty of its domestic football infrastructure.

To illustrate this last point, Dalic said Croatia does not have a suitable venue to host England when they meet in UEFA's new Nations League competition in October.

He was also asked about his own path to the final, having left Croatia in 2010 to coach a new side in Saudi Arabia. From there he moved to Saudi Arabia's biggest club, Al-Hilal, and then took charge of the United Arab Emirates' top side Al-Ain.

But after seven successful years in the Middle East, Dalic was given a chance to rescue Croatia's faltering World Cup qualification campaign and the rest is history.

He said he had to go to the Gulf because European teams "look for brand names" and tended to go for "big names, big money, big mistakes", whereas Croatian coaches have been underrated.

That may change now, especially if his "compact" and never-say-die side can beat France, who will be playing in their third World Cup final in 20 years.

"In my opinion, Lionel Messi is the best player in the world and Neymar is very close, but all those teams who relied on stars have gone home," he said.

"We have been compact, united and have fought for everything and we are still in the tournament."

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