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Dalić: “This Croatia is the greatest national team in Croatian history”

Zlatko Dalić boycotts FIFA awards: ‘Croatia deserves more respect than this’

Zlatko Dalić

Croatia defeated the Netherlands 4-2 in the UEFA Nations League semi-final last night and will compete for their first trophy since independence on Sunday against Spain or Italy.

The day after the match, the “Vatreni” will have a light recovery training session. Coach Zlatko Dalić traditionally appeared before the media.

“We exerted ourselves in every sense during the match, there were a lot of emotions up and down, and we are happy and thrilled after such a game and the atmosphere we experienced. You know that I considered the Nations League as my lesser competition, which caused me problems. Obviously, we had to go through our own calvary to reach this point. There is always some sacrifice, and we went through it in the past two years to experience the pinnacle of yesterday’s match. The final, thanks to everyone for what happened yesterday, to the boys for the excellent eight training sessions they completed. Dražen and Mark scouted the Netherlands superbly, everything was at a high level. And finally, thanks to the 20,000 Croats who supported and cheered for us. One of the greatest matches in the history of the Croatian national team.”

From the first day, you emphasised the importance of mentality. In your tenure, Croatia has won six out of seven matches which have gone into extra time.

“It’s unbelievable. You play extra time six times, not in just any competition, but in the World Cup and the Nations League, and you win all six times. You have to be mentally strong and resilient, with belief in yourself. Obviously, this group of players has acquired that and brought it with them. The entire attitude, work, and trust contributed to that. When you concede a goal in the 96th minute, you should lose your will and desire, but we seemed to gain even more energy. Perišić comes towards the bench and shows us that ‘it will be okay.’ The guys believe in what they’re doing. When you watch those training sessions in Rijeka, it can’t be bad. They didn’t think about transfers, and some of them are involved in that, nor about vacations. Only about the national team and training. I can’t praise them enough for how good it all was.”

How is the team’s physical condition today?

“Even if someone feels something, they won’t say it.”

How much strength do you have for the final?

“The stake is great, the gold. We can’t have a greater motivation than that. There will be more of our fans. It doesn’t matter who the opponent will be; both teams are quality. What matters is how we position ourselves and be ready. I don’t think we’ll have problems with the lineup; we’ll see what we’ll do, whether we’ll try something different. We’ve exerted ourselves, today we’ll try to recover. 

Last night, I told the boys after dinner, ‘everything is great, but now we need to stay calm and smart, not rush anywhere, towards that gold.’ That’s my great wish, and probably yours as well. Silver, bronze, and gold. In six years of my tenure, three medals for Croatia, nobody believed we could achieve that. We have once again become a powerhouse in football, showing that despite all our problems, we have quality and character. We demonstrate that in matches, and it makes us happy and proud.”

Many say that this is the greatest national team in the history of Croatia.

“Whoever said that is right. We won Olympic gold medals in other sports. I don’t underestimate others, but football is by far the most important sport. Croatian sports achieve great things, but what we have been doing for the past six years, uniting the whole of Croatia, and making the whole world wonder and admire what we do, is incomprehensible to anyone. This national team is the greatest and the best. Maybe Croatia was better in 2008 and 2016 when you look at who was in the attack—Klasnić, Modrić, Petrić, Eduardo… But this Croatia is the greatest national team in Croatian history.”

Do you have any wishes for the final?

“We haven’t played against Italians during my tenure, but we have played against Spaniards. I won’t choose, so it doesn’t seem like I made the wrong choice. Whoever comes, we are significant in all of that. The Spaniards will strive for a more open game, while the Italians will play differently, more solid. Whoever comes, we know what our desire is—to win the gold. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll be disappointed and sad, but also proud.”

What will decide Luka Modrić’s future?

“We always talk about Luka, pushing him into retirement. Let him decide for himself what and how he will continue. I will leave that decision to him. That’s why Luka is Luka, unique and irreplaceable in the whole world. All his peers have some problems, look at how Messi ended up in Paris. But Luka is an icon wherever he appears. Yesterday, when he came out, the whole stadium gave him ovations. I have nothing more to add or say about Luka. When it was tough, he took that penalty and brought us back.”

Who covered the most distance?

“We don’t have those stats yet. We will receive the fitness report during the day, but I think it was again at a high level, that we ran a lot. In the first half, perhaps both sides were more reserved; they didn’t do much to us except for the goal when they outnumbered us. It was understandable that we and they wouldn’t exert ourselves too much, but as the match progressed, the quality, motivation, and gameplay grew.”

Is there anything you’re not satisfied with?

“I don’t want anything that wasn’t good to be there. After such a victory, I said last night, after 23 years, someone beats the Netherlands in Rotterdam, after 23 or 24 wins and six draws, they lose to us. You can’t find any fault in the whole story. How the players played and how we conducted ourselves. We did everything in the last 10 minutes not to concede a goal. We played with a high defender, and they bypassed our play. And then, we conceded a goal in the 96th minute, just like that. Maybe that’s the only thing. We prepared everything not to concede it, lost the forward pressure, and conceded a goal. Maybe that’s the criticism.”

Has Croatia had this much support on any away game during your tenure, practically half of the stadium?

“Perhaps in Vienna against Austria. But yesterday was the best, everyone gathered, and I saw unity. That’s how it should be. Yesterday they showed that they can support, that the whole stadium sings the same song and cheers. They deserve praise.”

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