Croatia’s defeat to Argentina in the semi-finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup was a hard blow to take for the players and coaching staff who dreamed of reaching the final. Croatia’s final will now be on Saturday when they play for bronze.
As is customary at this World Cup, coach Zlatko Dalić shared his impressions with the media at a press conference the day after the match, as as 24sata reports.
What is the psychological state of the team, how did you see the game last night?
Greetings to everyone. Once again, I would like to congratulate Argentina on reaching the final, and also to our boys. We did our best. When we look at the whole game, we had complete control for 35 minutes, everything we wanted and we kept it that way. Ball, control, possession, keeping Messi away from the goal and the ball. And then everything was cut short by the penalty and a lot of things went wrong.
We did what we wanted for 35 minutes, we didn’t do much going forward, but that wasn’t so important. I was talking yesterday, that goal definitely directed how the game went, cut it off and took it in the wrong direction. After that, we conceded the second goal from a few connected mistakes and our corner. We are sad and disappointed, but we have to gather our strength to get back for the bronze medal game on Saturday – Dalić said.
Penalty aside, why did that detail disrupt the concentration of such an experienced team? You were also showing with your hands to the players to stop and calm down.
Yes, I said that, I knew it was important not to concede a goal for five, six minutes and get back into the game. But you are irritated by the corner that was, we have a counterattack, and four players are discussing whether it was a corner, then you concede a quick second goal.
We had to keep calm. After the first goal, we moved forward, I said to stop and calm down so that they wouldn’t start a counter attack, which happened. It happens, but the second goal was a corner for us. Complete control of the game again and we concede a goal after the ball bounces off the opponent several times. We had to keep our concentration, especially after the first goal.
After the goal, there was no aggression, we made only eight fouls. Should we have played much more aggressively than against Brazil and Japan?
We had possession, we had the ball for most of the second half, and the aggression was when we lost the ball. The opponent did not break us with possession, so we reacted. We had more possession.
Why did we take a corner that way instead of a direct cross?
We scored several goals from that combination, against Denmark, Brozović didn’t cover, now we were too slow and they went on the counter. The cross should have been delayed. A lot of atypical things connected that happened.
How is the team and how do you look ahead to the next game?
The match is a big final for us, not a small final. We have to prepare in every sense, it’s a big thing if we take the bronze medal, that would be great. We have problems with players, and we had problems with Gvardiol. He received an injection before the match, he was training for two days, he had a foot injury and it hurt. Broz also injured his hamstring.
We need fit players, we won’t put anyone whose even eyelashes hurt. This is an important match for us, we need fit players. The difference is being third or fourth in the world, we will do everything to do that.
Eight players did not play even a minute this World Cup. Do you have regrets?
We went game by game, there was no need. Every match was uncertain and tense, with the way of play and tactics we reached the goal, the semi-finals. Whenever we could, we changed and rested. This is a tournament, games every four days. That’s a lot of spending energy, but none of the players complained.
Whenever we did the analysis and got the running data, we were better. That’s not the reason. We spent ourselves, but there wasn’t much room for rotations and changes, nor was there a game in which we could do that.
If our opponent is Morocco, how different will it be than the first time?
As far as I’ve been following, no national team constantly plays with a same squad and makes adjustments. Except for Brazil, which had that comfort. Everyone else uses 14-15 players and goes all the way. Morocco? Whoever comes, we have a big fight ahead of us. The game will be different, they were in our group, they were first, a good start was important, and this is about winning. Morocco proved to be a difficult opponent, it will not be easy for the French either. We will see and then we can comment on that.
Fight for bronze?
It will be an uncertain match, I wouldn’t want to say who I would like or want. Morocco is the biggest surprise of the World Cup, a national team that has come together since the summer, returned three or four top players, gained national energy, togetherness, unity and compactness, and with the support of the fans is pushing brilliantly.
They didn’t concede a goal except for an own goal, they deserve all the respect. They have their own style, defensive block and they come out of it. There is not much to say about the French, they play fantastically throughout the tournament. Mbappe is hard to stop no matter how much you want to, he is motivated to win the World Cup, a cohesive team with a good coach. Whoever comes to us, it will be difficult for us.
How do you see Modrić retiring after the WC, can you confirm that?
He was very disappointed yesterday, the defeat and the match were hard on him. It’s logical that he feels that way, it was really hard for him. Our concentration is on the game on Saturday, we haven’t talked about that. We have to prepare for that game, and I hope he stays in the national team. Of course, he will decide about it himself. We have a game on Saturday and we’ll talk after that. It will be difficult for me if Modrić says goodbye.
If Luka says goodbye to the national team, it will be a pity and regret for all the fans around the world. He showed so much good football, but he also proved to be a top professional. When he wins and when he loses, he behaves like a true professional. It is difficult for him, and he will make his own decision. It will be difficult for me too if he decides otherwise, but the whole world respects Modrić. It would be nice if he continued.
The whole of Croatia dreamed of the final, the younger ones were broken and in tears. What did you tell them?
The atmosphere was sad, which is normal. The younger ones came to something they did not expect to happen so quickly and in such a way. You lose in the semi-finals, your dream doesn’t come true. But I told the boys to keep their heads up, they must be proud, they gave their best and this is a big thing for them that we are playing for third place at all.
We must not sink and fall, we will need strength. That’s why we did normal training and regeneration today. It’s not easy, whoever loses in the semi-finals has big problems to come back and be ready for the match for third place. It is the hardest and worst game. But they must be aware that they have something to fight for. Guys, we’re playing for third place in the world, so that’s fantastic!
If someone had told me that before the World Cup, we would have taken it. When you look at which national teams are home, and Croatia stays until the end of the tournament, it’s fantastic. They must be proud, and I am proud of them. We have to be realistic in this story and understand that we have done a fantastic thing, beyond all expectations.
Winning bronze for Ćiro Balžević. Have you heard from him?
I haven’t heard from anyone these days, I rarely use the phone. I know he is sick, in a difficult situation. I know that the national team lifts him when it wins, one of the reasons for the victory will be him, to make him feel better. I know that it is difficult for him, that in 1998 he managed to raise the team to recover after the defeat against France, I hope that I will be able to do the same.
A minute before the end of added time, I went to the coach of Argentina and congratulated him, I knew that there would be celebrations afterwards, that is human and correct. In the mix zone, I congratulated Messi and the goalkeeper, wished them luck in the final.
We didn’t talk much, there were a lot of people. A nice gesture from all of us, we weren’t like them in Nizhny Novgorod when we left the field, and it was only the group stage, what if it was now. But each of us has our own struggles, some deal with it this way, some that way.
The most difficult thing is to remain dignified in defeat, it shows the greatness of Luka Modrić to congratulate them all, and it is difficult for him, as well as for all our players. And that gesture shows that we are big. When the French bowed to us in Moscow, that’s a gesture that makes you happy. So you are still something, Croatia is still worth something in world football.
Welcome party in Zagreb?
It’s nice to see people enjoying themselves even in the cold, that’s a nice thing, it would be good to come back third. We have to finish the work in Qatar, and then we will move on. It is nice.
Dalić is under contract until Euro 2024 and he confirmed that he will continue on to at least then.