Croatia Coach Zlatko Dalić Reveals Recipe for Containing Messi

Daniela Rogulj

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World Cup finalist coach Zlatko Dalić reveals his secret to containing Messi in Russia.

Remember Croatia’s 3:0 blowout against Argentina in the group stage of the World Cup this summer?

Of course, you do. 

It was a game that paved Croatia’s road to the World Cup final, and a game many Croatian fans went into expecting the worst. With Argentina’s star-studded lineup that boasted Messi, Dybala, Di Maria, and Gonzalo Higuain, what else were we supposed to think?

Croatia’s superhero coach Zlatko Dalić, however, found a way to neutralize the five-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi in Russia, and today we finally know exactly what tactics Croatia used to mitigate the mighty attacker – the attacker coach Dalić repeatedly labeled the best in the world. 

Dalić repeatedly labeled Messi the best footballer in the world 

“For me, Leo Messi is the best player in the world, and he is showing that week after week,” Dalić said in an interview with Goal on November 1, 2018. 

Dalić added that it wasn’t just his strategy, but the team’s overall strength that allowed them to control Messi – and the attacker especially languished when his supply line was cut off.

Dalić claims Croatia stopped the ball from getting to Messi at all, and contained the areas he liked to receive the ball 

“It’s harder for Messi to play for Argentina than Barcelona, and we tried to exploit what we considered small weaknesses in the Argentinian team. The key was to be disciplined and to follow our tactical game plan fully, and our players did exactly that. We tried to stop the ball from reaching Messi and to contain him quickly in the areas where he likes to receive the ball. As good as Messi is, football is a team sport and if one team performs better than the other it’s hard for any individual to turn everything around. Croatia was just a better team than Argentina in that game,” Dalić continued. 

Dalić will assemble the Croatia national team in just over a week for what will be the team’s most crucial games since the World Cup – Spain at Maksimir stadium and England away at Wembley for the remaining two meetings of the UEFA Nations League. 

If Croatia wins both games, they will secure first place in the group and continue on in the competition. If they lose, they’ll not only be eliminated from the top league of Nations League, but they’ll also fail to be a top-seeded team in the upcoming draw for Euro 2020 qualifiers. 


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