Tuesday 17 July 2018

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic wants to keep national party going with World Cup win

Croatia are confident ahead of their semi-final against England – just do not mention Dejan Lovren’s Liverpool nadir against Harry Kane.

Zlatko Dalic during his pre-match press conference (Aaron Chown/PA)
Zlatko Dalic during his pre-match press conference (Aaron Chown/PA)

By Matt Slater, Press Association Chief Sports Reporter, Moscow

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic believes victory over England on Wednesday would spark the biggest party in the country’s short history.

Croatian players competed for Yugoslavia between 1945 and 1990 and the modern Croatian FA was not recognised by FIFA and UEFA until 1993.

Five years later, the team achieved its greatest result, third at France 1998, and they are now back in the World Cup’s semi-finals and hoping for more.

Speaking on the eve of Croatia’s meeting with England, Dalic said: “We are a country where anything is possible, so there are no surprises.

“We are four million people, four million coaches and four million players. Everyone has been out on the streets celebrating what we’ve achieved and that is a great source of pride for us.

“Those emotions are what drive us, that is our petrol and how we have come back to a semi-final after 20 years.

“I don’t know what will happen if we win, probably nobody will go to work. We’re not working much now so you can imagine what it will be like if we win.”

Dalic, who enjoyed a solid but unspectacular career as a midfielder in Croatia, was given the national job last year after success as a coach in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Despite having talents such as Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic to call upon, Croatia’s results had not been particularly impressive for several years.

The 51-year-old made it his mission to change that and the results have been spectacular, most notably a 3-0 demolition of Argentina in the group stage, although the side has needed penalties to get past Denmark and hosts Russia in the knockout stages.

“We shouldn’t be surprised Croatia is in the last four,” said Dalic.

“This generation has been underrated because of their results but they’ve had the quality and now they are showing it.”

Since that Argentina game, Croatia have done just enough to beat Iceland, Denmark and Russia, but Dalic believes that is because they set up to frustrate his side, whereas England’s more attacking style could suit them better.

He has, however, noted the set-piece threat posed by Gareth Southgate’s men.

“We know their set-pieces are dangerous, they have scored seven times from them, but we have no reason to be nervous, we are relieved of any pressure and are here to enjoy ourselves,” he said.

Dejan Lovren, a man who will be crucial to Croatia’s enjoyment of the clash at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, was sat next to Dalic on Tuesday and he exuded the same calm confidence as his coach.

Predicting a “difficult and intriguing match for both teams”, the Liverpool centre-back dismissed the notion that Croatia are at a disadvantage because they have had to play 120 minutes twice in a week.

He also said there was no need for him to give his team-mates any tips on England’s players, as they were all well aware of who they are up against.

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Dejan Lovren was irked by a question about Harry Kane (Aaron Chown/PA)

Lovren, however, was annoyed by a question about one of his worst performances for Liverpool – last October’s visit to Wembley to play Spurs. The visitors lost 4-1, with Harry Kane scoring twice, but Lovren was substituted after 31 minutes.

“That defeat is completely irrelevant,” he said, with a face like thunder. “Why didn’t you ask me about when I played well against him? You are just nitpicking a bad performance.

“I’ve got the utmost respect for him – he’s been banging goals in for Spurs for several seasons – but he’s not alone, his team-mates play at top clubs, so it will be difficult.

“But if we are ready and compact like we were against Argentina, I don’t believe we’ll have any problems.”

Press Association

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