The Croatia national team will play in the 2022 World Cup round of 16 against Japan, the winner of Group E. Second-placed Croatia will thus face a rather unexpected opponent for a spot in the quarter-final. Coach Zlatko Dalić spoke to the press in Qatar the morning after Groups E and F were completed.
Recall Croatia and Morocco drew 0-0 in the opening match, after which Croatia beat Canada 4-1 and finished 0-0 against Belgium, enough to win second place in Group F. Croatia thus crosses over with the winner of Group E, Japan, which lost to Costa Rica 0-1, and beat Germany and Spain 2-1.
Have you had time to analyze the match against Belgium one more time?
“I looked at it last night in peace, I got the statistics, and the impression is better than yesterday. Great match by Croatia, great 98 minutes. Control, defense, pressing – everything was at the highest level. Full control. We had two or three situations that could have been fatal, but they came from our mistakes, not Belgium’s game.
The complete story was great. There were so many good things. According to statistics, we ran 122 kilometers and did not fail in that segment. Everything we did was very, very good. The impression after the recording is better than after the game.”
What awaits Croatia against Japan?
“Tough game for both teams. Spain took the lead and thought it was over, but Japan never wavers and never gives up. Japan deserved to win because they were compact and fast. Germany was eliminated, and Belgium and Denmark, which speaks of the quality of the other national teams. Maybe earlier, we would have chosen Japan as the best option, but they beat Germany and Spain, and Japan is anything but an easy opponent.”
How is Croatia doing physically?
“We work very well all the time; training is at a high level. We didn’t fail the physical fitness part, and I’m not afraid of that. We have to rest for two days and prepare for Japan, but we are full of energy and motivation. We want to avoid injury. We can’t rest the whole team, but it’s not necessary either.”
How would you rate Japan as a team, and what will be critical for that game?
“If someone finishes first in the group ahead of Spain and Germany, they are good and quality. Japan showed that they do not give up. They came back after losing and have great quality. We must be disciplined and patient and not make mistakes at the beginning of the game. Japan punishes it with counterattacks. We have to have a good comeback.”
How does it feel to be statistically one of the best coaches at the World Cup?
“I will look at it from the aspect of Croatian football and the national team. We have continuity; we are always at the top. Along with Germany and France, we are the only ones with medals in the last 20 years. We are a small country; we must be happy and proud. It’s not my success, but it’s the success of all of us. I hope this is not the end and that Croatia will do better and bigger things.
We have become a team that deserves the respect I’m talking about, not that we play at 1 pm as World Cup finalists. We deserved it with the results. However this ends, it is a fact.”
What is the next goal?
“Appetites have not increased. We must be calm and modest and look for what is most important. It’s the next game. We must not think that we have done great things. We did what we were preparing for, and we are moving on. When we were first in the group with nine points in Russia in 2018, we went to Denmark. I said then that we would have been losers if we had lost that game. No one would remember the group.
It is the same now. We will not go with big announcements. We will try to win the next game and take the next step. We must be firmly on the ground. We know that Japan has a lot of players in Europe, or eight of them in the Bundesliga. They also have players at Celtic, good players in the championship. The Japan coach knows European football. Japan will be a worthy rival to Croatia.
I’m not surprised that Japan is in the round of 16. They deserved it with their games and quality, and I congratulate them on that.”
Dalić commented on the photo of Joško Gvardiol in his mother’s arms.
“It warmed my heart when I saw it. That’s why he’s the best stopper in the world; you can’t be complete if you don’t have those feelings. That picture is the picture of the Croatia national team. I congratulate his mother for raising such a son.”
And what about that VAR call in last night’s match?
“I don’t usually comment on the reffing, but I was angry. It’s a centimeter; it takes away the emotion. Because of this, Croatia lost the World Cup title. It hurts. If this were the interpretation, that hand in Russia would not be a penalty.”
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