September 4, 2020 – The Croatia national football team has arrived in Porto, where they will play their first match in the second edition of the Nations League against Portugal on Saturday. After ten months, the Vatreni are back together at the start of a new competition season. Zlatko Dalic addressed the press ahead of the Nations League clash against Portugal.
“When the national team gathers, there is always a good atmosphere; it’s cheerful, the guys are in the mood, and we all missed it. After ten months, we are back together; we use this time to prepare, work, and get back together as before. The boys are eager to work and train; they came to the national team full of will and motivation,” says Zlatko Dalic, who is very aware of the demanding back-to-back games against Portugal and France.
“It couldn’t have been harder right at the beginning, we are playing against the two strongest opponents, against the European and world champions on their pitches, and we are not in an ideal condition for such matches at the moment. Of course, this is no one’s fault; the situation is as it is. Most of the players came to the gathering from holidays, a few of them started preparations, and a smaller part of the championship started. Therefore, in this regard, we have a very colorful situation, and it will be very difficult for us. We have demanding matches ahead of us, and we will have to be at a very high level if we want to achieve a good result. I expect that, but, I repeat, it will not be easy. Especially because we are not physically ready, and we can only use three subs at a time. Therefore, we will have to be very careful in that direction as well.”
Especially because the team is handicapped by the absence of two important players, captain and vice-captain, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, whose roles will be taken over by some new, younger players.
“We will miss a lot of players who are not there, especially two captains, and that is a handicap for us, but in the near future, Croatia will be without Modric, Rakitic, Perisic, Lovren, Vida, and the time will come for some other players to take over their roles. Therefore, this is an ideal chance for them to prepare for it to get a chance to play matches. It will be difficult for us without Luka and Ivan; you know how sensitive I am to the players who have been with me in the national team since the first day and how much I respect them, but that is the situation. I think this is an ideal time for young players who play great in their clubs to get a chance to play for the national team because soon they will be the holders of the game and replace the older players. That is inevitable.”
Dalic paid a lot of attention to opponents who require the maximum engagement of the whole team.
“I have already said, we are not in such a physical condition that we could play high pressure throughout the game and chase opponents on the pitch. In this segment of the game, we will have to mix, be in the block for a while and try to open quickly, and, when possible, decide on high pressure. During the game, we have to know how to rest, to have possession of the ball, because it will not be good if we are constantly chasing; we are not ready for that at this moment. However, we have the quality to save the ball, especially in the midfield, to develop the game through quality passing. We will have to be compact and homogeneous; if we succeed in that, we can expect a good game and result. I hope that the team will meet all the requirements.”
Of course, at the mention of Portugal, everyone highlights Cristiano Ronaldo, which is, to some extent, unfair to a team that is too strong to be talked about exclusively in the context of one of the best players in the world.
“Of course Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the best players in the world, a scorer who always gives his best, always physically flawlessly ready, a player who can take advantage and score a goal from any situation. We have to be very careful with him, but, on the other hand, Portugal is the current European champion and winner of the Nations League and has a number of quality players who can create problems. It will not be good if we focus only on Cristiano Ronaldo; the Portuguese have a good style of play. They are well-coordinated, have a rotation in the midfield, and throw a lot forward, especially backline players… We have to prevent that, Ronaldo is the most dangerous player, but he is not the only danger for Portugal.”
The Nations League also allowed players the chance to prove themselves.
“We always play for the result, and that must always be the case when it comes to the Croatia national team. Croatia must always look for a victory no matter who they play with, but the Nations League will also serve as good preparation for the European Championship. We will try to check and get some players through these matches, and in that sense, we are completely ready to welcome the European competition. That is our main goal, but we do not have much time to play some new variants. We are only together a few days, and there will be time to try some things when the friendly matches come. We have to look to achieve a good result and come back from Portugal and France with good results. I repeat, it will be extremely difficult and demanding, the opponents are the most dangerous at the moment, but we are also second in the world,” concluded Dalic.
On late Friday evening, Portugal coach Fernando Santos confirmed that Cristiano Ronaldo would miss the match against Croatia.
“He trained very well on Monday and Tuesday, but he had leg problems on Wednesday, so we sent him to the gym then. During lunch, we found out he had swelling in his leg, like a wasp sting, so he’s on antibiotic treatment,” Santos said after Friday’s training, which was open to the media for 15 minutes.