Zlatko Dalic: It Would be Nice to Celebrate Qualifying for Euro 2020 at Poljud

Daniela Rogulj

September 8, 2019 – Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic talks Trnava, staying humble, and the young talents leading the way through Croatia’s Euro 2020 qualifications. 

Many Croatian football fans may still be wondering if that Croatia team we saw crush Slovakia 0:4 in Trnava was made of magic, or if we’re still dreaming. Sure, a team like Croatia should have had no problem winning that game, but when you take into consideration the players missing (Rakitic, Kovacic), that half of the starting lineup was a team of young reserves, and that it was perhaps the best game of football played under coach Zlatko Dalic, the shock seems a bit more warranted. 

Zlatko Dalic revealed his feelings in the aftermath for Jutarnji List.

“Everything’s fine now. We played superbly, all 90 minutes, I said it was one of our best games since I have been the coach. I wouldn’t single out any players because they were all great. We played decisively, aggressively, dominated, we were what Croatia should be,” Zlatko Dalic said on Saturday morning before heading to Baku. 

In public appearances before Trnava, Dalic announced a solid Croatia, however, during the week, some doubts were raised about how it would all end. Did Dalic believe this would be the result?

“This was intensified in the media, journalists emphasized the problems, but it wasn’t like that among us. I said the atmosphere was great, we were ready, and that I believed we would play the right game. We held a meeting together talking about where we are and what awaits us. Of course, the atmosphere is not like the World Cup, because the World Cup is something completely different, but the atmosphere in the team is great, and what Dejan Lovren said was not interpreted correctly, it was put in the wrong context.”

Recall, ahead of the game against Slovakia, Lovren revealed that the atmosphere in the team was poor, and far from the positivity that carried the team through Russia. 

Dalic said that he’d let these two games pass, then deal with Rakitic. What will the outcome be?

“They’re not over yet. We have a game against Azerbaijan, and now we only have to think about that. No, it doesn’t make sense to emphasize anything about Rakitic right now. That’s what the media does.”

Ivan Perisic said that Croatia never played the way did against Slovakia in the World Cup, never for 90 minutes at that level of intensity.

“It is true that we kept a high pace for all 90 minutes, that we did not stop even when the result was very favorable. We could have scored far more goals. Slovakia is a good quality team, but they are not like Argentina or England, it wasn’t that kind of high profile match, or like some others in Russia, which had their peculiarities. The World Cup is something extraordinary, but Slovakia looked bad because we didn’t let them play. We blocked them, they exploited themselves, they couldn’t develop their game. The development of the match was based on our merit.”

What was the shock of being left without Tin Jedvaj on match day?

“When we were told that Tin Jedvaj had a more series injury, we didn’t want to risk anything. It happened to us three times that one of our backs had to come out early in the game and that disrupted us. We played great in Elche twenty minutes into the game against Spain, then Sime Vrsaljko was injured and we fell dramatically. The same thing happened with Vrsaljako at Wembley, where we were also good at the start, and Borna Barisic leaving Budapest is the third case. These forced substitutions turned out to have a bad effect on the team, and we were defeated every time. I didn’t want to gamble with Jedvaj, so it wouldn’t happen again.”

Is Dalic satisfied with Bartolec?

“I did not like the option of putting Vida on the right back and Mitrovic as the stopper as it would not affect the team well. Let the stopper play stopper; the right back play right back. If one falls, another specialist comes in the position. Bartolec was trying to make an impression at first, but later he let loose, fit in, played as I asked. He is our gain and we can certainly rely on him in the future.”

Why were the attacking three Perisic – Petkovic – Rebic selected and Brekalo only introduced in the second half?

“I decided to play as we did at the World Cup, with Rebic and Perisic on . the wings, as they can give the most. Rebic was a midfielder at Eintracht, however, he plays there in the center, facing the opponent’s goal and has plenty of space. In the national team it is different, he is closer to the net, in a dense space, and does not do so well. This was evident during the match in Budapest when he was imprisoned and could not reap the benefits. That’s why I opted for such a variant.”

Petkovic was one of the best players in the match.

“We need a striker who can hold the ball, and he is the only one in that picture. He is a great player, he danced around his opponents, created chances, scored. We prepared with these tactics and Petkovic executed perfectly. In Petkovic, we have the type of striker we didn’t have. I’ve said it could bring us a lot.”

In addition to qualifying for Euro, it will also be a huge benefit to form a new core of the national team for years to come. But maybe already for 2020.

“If we qualify for Euro, then rejuvenating the national team will make sense. But one thing is clear: they need new aces, hungry, ambitious young men. I said that right after Russia. Brekalo, Petkovic, Vlasic and some others are increasingly important to us.”

Could Croatia be very dangerous at Euro 2020?

“I could tell you something, but this is not the time for such stories. First, we need to collect 15 points, and then we will talk about ambitions for the Euro. We need to stay with our feet on the ground. We only have nine points; this is not enough to qualify.” 

How did Dalic conclude that 15 points would be enough? Isn’t Croatia going to need more?

“I looked at the final qualification tables in earlier cycles. In a six-team group, more points are needed, 21 or 22, but when there are five teams in the group, 15 points are always enough to pass. That is why I say that this is the limit we must reach.”

So, according to Dalic’s estimation, if Croatia defeats Azerbaijan and Hungary, they will celebrate qualifying for the Euros on October 10th in Split?

“That would be the best. According to our wishes. It doesn’t matter how we get those points, just get them in the account, but we want them as soon as possible.”

It is not always easy for a mentality like Croatia’s to continue in a duel against the last-placed team in the table after a significant victory. Azerbaijan doesn’t have a single point, but we must remember what happened in 2015, when the two teams played 0-0.

“The focus must be completely on Azerbaijan; they are motivated, they have shown in Zagreb that they are good and we have no right to relax. This situation reminds me of the post-Argentina atmosphere, when I said we had to be humble. We need to stay firm on the ground. If we don’t get Azerbaijan, we have done nothing.”

And who congratulated Dalic after the big win in Trnava apart from Mario Mandzukic?

“Rakltic also congratulated me; he sent a message. Not only Ivan, but also Corluka, Vrsaljko, and many others. Most of the messages I have not been able to read, my phone is full.”

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