On October 9, 2017, Zlatko Dalić led Croatia for the first time in a decisive match against Ukraine.
October 9, 2018 – Exactly one year ago today, a relatively unknown Zlatko Dalić sat on the Croatia national team bench for the first time. It was no easy task for the new coach, who signed a contract with the Croatian Football Federation solely to take Croatia through their remaining World Cup qualifying game against Ukraine. Recall, after Croatia drew to Finland just a few days before, which forced the sacking of former coach Ante Čačić, Dalić needed a win in Kiev to guarantee Croatia a chance at playing in the World Cup at all. The atmosphere surrounding the national team was sour, the players were disheartened, and the pressure was on.
Dalić’s Croatia prevailed against Ukraine thanks to two goals by Hoffenheim superstar Andrej Kramarić, and the rest, as they say, is history.
To the coach that took Croatia from down in the dumps to World Cup finalists in less than a year, here’s a look at Dalić’s achievements with Croatia in 365 days, thanks to 24 Sata.
1. Ukraine – Croatia 0-2: Anything but a victory in Kiev meant Croatia would be without the World Cup in 2018. It was the match of the year, and the start of the ‘Dalić’ era. Croatia went on to play in the World Cup playoffs against Greece.
2. Croatia – Greece 4-1: It was the first game in World Cup playoffs against Greece at Maksimir where Croatia won 4-1. Just a few days later, Croatia secured a 0-0 draw in the return match in Piraeus to guarantee their spot in Russia the following summer.
3. Croatia – Nigeria 2-0: It was the first game of the World Cup which Croatia played against Nigeria, who Dalić called their toughest opponent. Dalić used Kramarić from the first minute and played an attacking game to win 2-0.
4. Croatia – Argentina 3-0: What was supposed to be the most nerve-racking game of the group stage instead saw three incredible goals by Ante Rebić, Luka Modrić, and Ivan Rakitić. Croatia said ‘ciao’ to Leo Messi and welcomed football euphoria throughout the country.
5. Croatia – Iceland 2-1: One of Croatia’s bitter rivals and a rematch of sorts, Dalić used a squad of mostly reserves including Jedvaj, Ćaleta-Car, Pjaca, Badelj, and Pivarić. Croatia still managed to win 2-1, and secured first place in the group for the first time in history!
6. Croatia – Denmark 3-2 on penalties: It was the round of 16 and what Dalić called the most important match so far. Modrić missed a penalty in extra time, though Croatia proved superior during the penalty shootout. Dalić led the team to the quarterfinals.
7. Croatia – Russia 4-3 on penalties: Croatia pulled out the win during penalties once again to crush the dreams of the World Cup hosts. Croatia advanced to the semifinals, following the footsteps of the ’Bronze Generation’ of 1998. In Croatia, Dalić became a national hero.
8. Croatia – England 2-1: Thanks to a stellar goal by Mandžo in extra time, Croatia overcame England for a place in the World Cup final. The country went wild, and Croatia would play in their first World Cup final ever.
9. Croatia – France 2-4: While we could easily say that referee Nestor Pitana helped France win the World Cup thanks to two poor calls (that became goals), no one in Croatia seemed to mind as millions around the country rushed to the streets to welcome their World Cup finalists.
10. Spain – Croatia 6-0: It was the first game for Croatia in the Nations League and their first after the World Cup. Croatia suffered their heaviest defeat in history, meaning Dalić wears the best and worst defeat of the Croatia national team.
Croatia and England will play in front of empty stands at Rujevica in Rijeka on Friday for the second game of their UEFA Nations League group. Can Dalić continue to conquer?