Dalic success beyond wildest dreams as he targets greatest result in Croatia's history

By Sports Desk December 12, 2022 519

Croatia's journey to successive World Cup semi-finals is beyond head coach Zlatko Dalic's wildest dreams.

Dalic was appointed in October 2017 when Croatia were in danger of missing out on the 2018 World Cup, his debut win over Ukraine in the final qualification group game securing second place.

Initially, Dalic said he would not remain in charge if Croatia failed to reach Russia 2018, but a 4-1 aggregate play-off defeat of Greece sealed their spot in the draw.

Dalic ultimately led the Valtreni to their first World Cup final – a 4-2 defeat to France denied them a famous maiden title, but their achievement remained significant.

Expectations of Croatia from neutrals ahead of Qatar 2022 were nowhere near as lofty, yet successive penalty shoot-out defeats of Japan and Brazil have taken them to within one match of becoming the first European nation since 1990 (Germany) to reach consecutive World Cup finals.

Argentina await at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday, and Monday's pre-match press conference provided Dalic the opportunity to reflect on his own journey since 2017.

"The situation is quite different to back then," he told reporters. "Honestly, I couldn't imagine I would come so far, be head coach of Croatia in two World Cups, that I would be leading Croatia in the final and semi-finals.

"I thought that these games were reserved for other protagonists, but thank God I managed to do it, I got the chance and took it. I'm so grateful for that chance.

"Whatever happens [on Tuesday], I'm still proud of what I've done for the Croatian national team. I'm proud of my Croatia and of my players.

"No one expected Croatia in four years would be among the four best teams, so my pride has no limits. It's sky-high.

"I'm a happy person now. All of us has dreams, mine was to be the head coach of Croatia. I never dreamt of this, so thanks to God for this."

Dalic was very eager to take the pressure off his team, though at the same time he is fully aware of the gravity of a potential win, which he believes would be the greatest result in Croatia's history.

"For me, the semi-final against England [in 2018] was the greatest match of all time [for Croatia] and the Brazil one [2022 quarter-final] is second.

"Tomorrow's will be third. It's one of the most significant for us. After only four years to repeat such an achievement [reaching a World Cup semi-final] on the international stage with a new national team is a great success.

"If we manage to win, that will make it the greatest match in history for Croatia."

Argentina also needed penalties to reach this stage, despite finding themselves 2-0 up against the Netherlands with less than 10 minutes of regulation time to go.

Dalic predicts Lionel Scaloni's men will be better than they were against the Oranje, though he is also adamant all the pressure is on the Albiceleste as their bid to finally win Lionel Messi a World Cup reaches its penultimate step.

"We analysed that match [against the Netherlands] and we saw what Argentina does best," Dalic added.

"Messi's in great shape again, he's very good at setting the stage for assists and is very connected with the other players.

"They're assertive, feisty; an extraordinary team. They're well-balanced, they have their own qualities and really want to get a result.

"They did not expect the Netherlands to come back. I even expect them to be better against us, to be more compact and have greater strength.

"This match is very important for them too. They are under greater pressure than us, they'll have a lot of fans, which is a handicap for us, but we won't succumb to that, we won't complain.

"We're into the semis, so let's play one of the best teams in the world and let's enjoy it."

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Last modified on Monday, 12 December 2022 10:36
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