Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said the 2018 World Cup runners-up hope Tuesday’s semi-final against Argentina in Qatar will be remembered as the “greatest game” in the country’s history.
With a population of just four million people, Croatia have again defied the odds and stand just 90 minutes from a return trip to the final.
“At back-to-back World Cups to be among the four best national teams, that’s an extraordinary success for Croatia,” said Dalic, who saw his side beaten 4-2 by France in the final four years ago.
“However, we want more,” he added. “I’m optimistic and have full confidence in my players. They’ve shown their great quality and strength of character, and deserve to be in the final.”
As in Russia in 2018, Croatia have required two penalty shootouts to reach the last four — beating Japan and then a heavily fancied Brazil.
Croatia haven’t won a knockout game in normal time at a major tournament since coming third at the 1998 World Cup.
“It was quite exhausting with extra time in two matches, but we’re in the semi-finals of the World Cup and we’re not even discussing exhaustion,” said Dalic.
“We are still strong, with energy and enthusiasm, without a doubt. We are going to give it our all, just as we have done in previous games.
“Against Argentina we will do the same, we will give our all. We don’t have any injury problems. They don’t feel tired.”
Croatia swept Argentina aside 3-0 in the group stage at the last World Cup, but Dalic says that will have no influence with the stakes much higher for the match at Lusail Stadium.
Pressure on Argentina
“That was a group stage match back then and it wasn’t decisive. That match has nothing to do with tomorrow’s,” he said.
“They’re under greater pressure than we are. They’ll have more fans and that’s a disadvantage for us, but we won’t be complaining,” continued Dalic.
“We’re now in the semi-finals and playing against one of the best teams in the world and in history.”
Croatia came from behind to beat England 2-1 after extra time in the 2018 semi-finals in Moscow. Ivan Perisic scored the equaliser before Mario Mandzukic’s memorable winning goal.
Mandzukic retired from international duty after the final, but Perisic remains an important player and one of four survivors from the team that started the defeat by France.
“It’s an incredible feeling to be here in the semi-finals of the World Cup. Just like any athlete we want to get to the final and will do everything possible,” said the 33-year-old Perisic.
“Argentina are a great team and will leave it all out there. It’s hard to compare this game with the semi-final against England. It will be similar because England also had a fantastic squad.”
Dalic has no doubts where the game will rank if Croatia can get the better of Lionel Messi and Argentina, who are bidding for a third World Cup title after winning in 1978 and 1986.
“For me, the semi-final against England was the greatest match of all time and the match against Brazil comes in second on that list,” said Dalic.
“Tomorrow’s match would be third. If we manage to win it would make it the greatest game for Croatia of all time.”
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