Dalić Gives Final Press Conference Before Final: “I Told Players to Enjoy”

Daniela Rogulj

Marca, the most widely read Spanish daily newspaper and one of the most popular sports portals in the world, published an excellent interview with Zlatko Dalić just before the World Cup final. 

“On October 6, 2017, Croatia’s home rematch with Finland left them with one-and-a-half feet outside of the World Cup in Russia. They would need a miracle to pass into additional qualifications and a win against Ukraine in the final round. Just before leaving for the decisive trip to Kiev, coach Ante Čačić was sacked. All hope for Croatia was put in the hands of Zlatko Dalić (51), who gained experience in Albania, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. There were only two days for the national team to prepare… Now in the middle of July 2018 and the day before the World Cup final, Dalić cannot make one step in the lobby of his Moscow hotel without people asking him for a photo.”

Juan Ignacio Garcia-Ochoa, Marca’s World Cup correspondent, writes an introduction about a man who “after only 13 matches on the bench became a national hero”, reports Index.hr on July 14, 2018. 

When you took over the national team nine months ago, did you think you’d come this far?

“Well, how could I have imagined it? I took over Croatia just before the match with Ukraine, which was to be or not to be, and that was all I was thinking about. Just as I did with Ukraine, I thought only about the games against Greece in additional qualifications. That is why the World Cup, and especially the triumph here, was unimaginable when I had just become the Croatian coach.”

Do you think that you can become the champion of the world?

“Now that we have come to the finals, of course I think we can do it. I believe it.”

Where would you put Croatia in relation to the favorites before the World Cup?

“Before the match with Nigeria my goal was to win it and to calmly go to the knockout stage, the round of 16. After we won against Denmark, the feeling was excellent and the players became a strong team. No one said then that we would get to the final or become the world champions, but looking at the team, I saw that it was possible. I thought the players themselves had the feeling and strength that it was possible.”

The players say that you are a great psychologist. How are you working with them?

“In all fields I try to do my job as well as possible. This is impossible without the player, and I’m fortunate to have impressive players at my disposal. Just look at the clubs they come from: Real, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern, Atletico… What I was trying to do was convince them that they were so good and that we as a team were even more powerful. Ever since I came I insisted on creating a team spirit and atmosphere, and now those united players are pushing me.”

So you enjoy working with Croatia’s best generation of footballers?

“They are incredibly talented, they have a winning mentality, pride… And it is very important because it is many of these players’ final World Cup and everyone wants to do something great with the team, and when you connect all these ingredients, you’re clearly in the final.”

How much are you responsible for Croatia being in the final?

“It’s my style. I wanted to build the team and the game gradually, from the defense, so that the players who created it enjoyed it. But this World Cup has been different. It’s difficult because almost every team insisted on a very strong defense and solid organization. Everything rests on the defense and a quick contention. My style is to try something different.”

Is Luka Modrić the best representative of this?

“Yes, Luka is an incredible player. He has won everything with Real Madrid – four Champions League, three in a row, but he missed something great with Croatia, and that is exactly what he is doing right now. For me he is the best player in this World Cup. But besides this, I also appreciate what he does on the field as a captain. He is an incredible leader who always gives the players courage and pushes them forward. Modrić is a great man.”

What’s the last thing you’ll tell the players before they hit the pitch?

“Guys, have fun. I want my players to enjoy. I’m very proud of everything they’ve done.”

Will you be able to physically recover the players?

“We didn’t reach the finals in normal circumstances, because in all three games of the knockout stages we played in extra time. It seems that we played one more game in the end, but we will be fine. It is amazing how we ended in extra time in the better condition than our rival, although we were on the pitch longer than them. It is true that the players are tired, some are injured, but we will not give up one game before it’s all over.”

How much of France did you watch?

“I’ve watched enough of their matches and held a lot of meetings with the players, but I’m not obsessed with the rival. I think it’s very important for my players to be on the field convinced of their capabilities and have a clear plan.”

So you’re not thinking about Mbappe, Griezmann…?

“Of course we think about them, and we always try to do something to reduce the influence of the opponent, but we are not obsessed with them because that would be wrong.”

You said that in autumn when you took over Croatia in dramatic circumstances, you did not think about winning the World Cup. But did you think about this over the last few days now that you’re in the final?

“Honestly, I did not. And I do not want to. I enjoy the moment. Now I have to prepare for the match, play a great final and if we win, we will celebrate and enjoy.”


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