The Croatia national football team gathers in Zagreb today before starting the qualification cycle for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. They will kick off their qualification campaign against Slovenia (Ljubljana, March 24), Cyprus (Rijeka, March 27), and Malta (Rijeka, March 30).
Coach Zlatko Dalić is looking forward to the gathering after a four-month break.
“After four months, we are together again. It makes us all happy; we can’t wait for the national team’s actions,” said Zlatko Dalić, who lost Dinamo striker Bruno Petković on the eve of an important match against Slovenia. He will miss all three upcoming matches.
“After Ante Rebić dropped out of the original list due to injury, Bruno Petković, who injured his shoulder during yesterday’s game against Gorica, has now dropped out. Unfortunately, we were left without two important players in the attack. Bruno has been in very good shape lately, and his injury has significantly disrupted the preparation for the match against Slovenia. We will miss him, but I hope for a quick recovery to at least help Dinamo in the Europa League. With Bruno, our game is different, but what we have, we will make work. Let’s continue to put together a team without him and Rebić. Fortunately, everything is fine with the arrival of Perišić and Brozović from Inter; we expect them at today’s training. All in all, we have three important matches ahead of us, of which the most demanding is against Slovenia, especially since we will gather only in the evening, and we will play on Wednesday. However, it’s the same for our opponent.”
The goals are well known.
“Our goal is known, and we do not deviate from it; it is qualifying for Qatar. So, we have to win points, and with what dynamics, it is less important; the most important thing is to qualify. It is important to start well; I expect us to be very motivated, responsible, and serious because that is the only way we can get a result. ”
Dinamo winger Mislav Oršić drew attention to himself with a masterful hattrick against Tottenham in the Europa League round of 16.
“I have already spoken several times about Dinamo and Mislav, about their great form and game. Oršić deserved to be in the national team, and of course, he will have minutes. Everything I thought about, everything I planned, falls into the water when someone gets hurt. So, I’ll wait a bit, talk to the players. We haven’t been together for a long time; I don’t know all the players’ conditions. We were thinking about doing things one way, but now things are changing. We will have to make some modifications, and Mislav is certainly in the narrowest circle for the match against Slovenia. He had a difficult game against Tottenham, he played 120 minutes, he played against Gorica again, so I have to think about that. In any case, Mislav is a crucial player, who with his form and quality, can help, and I expect that from him. We have three games; we have to be smart and wise to distribute the players’ strength and energy. We must not wear out because we have a hellish cycle, and the players come from an equally hellish rhythm anyway, so they are not in optimal condition. We have to be careful about that.”
Dalić’s assistant, Ivica Olić, is one of the most serious candidates for the new coach of CSKA Moscow.
“Olić and I spoke about this on Saturday. I will be sorry if Ivica Olić leaves the national team and my staff. He means a lot to me and helps me. However, if Ivica decides to take this step, he will have my full support and my help in every way. It is a big challenge for him, it is a big club, but it is also a big thing for the Croatia national team and football. If he stays, I’ll appreciate him even more. No, I wasn’t thinking about whether someone would replace him; we’ll see what happens. I am not thinking about new solutions, I am waiting for the situation to develop, and then I will decide. “
The match against Slovenia is the most difficult exam in March.
“First of all, none of these three games will be easy. Today there are no easy opponents. We have to enter every game as seriously, motivated, and disciplined as possible. Of course, Slovenia is the toughest opponent in this first cycle of matches. I appreciate and respect their coach, Matjaž Kek, who did great things with Rijeka and the Slovenia national team. It is a complex team, but we are the favorites, and we have to impose ourselves in Ljubljana. Slovenia has one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Oblak, then the very tough Iličić. They are quite a tall team; they have a good jump, they are aggressive and compact in the block. I expect a really tough match, but we have to show the right face. There won’t be much time for training and preparation, but we’ve been together for a long time, we know each other well, and we have to go for the win. Our goal is known; we cannot escape the role of favorites. We have to start winning points. As World Cup finalists, we are a challenge to everyone, and we must be reminded of the match against Hungary in which we suffered a defeat. Slovenia will be a good, aggressive opponent who wants to win. It’s the beginning of qualifications; no one knows who is in what condition, it will be inconvenient. However, there are no key matches, each carries three points, and points are important to us for the final ranking.”
Since there is not enough time for more serious training until the match against Slovenia, Dalić indicates that he will pay a lot of attention to the players.
“We will have to talk a lot, solve some things in meetings. There is no time for innovation, but all the players who have played in the Nations League know each other well. We know what we want. We will play against Slovenia with the strongest possible line-up, and we will go against Cyprus and Malta differently. Vrsaljko in the starting lineup? I’m waiting to see his condition. I’m aware he can’t help us in all three games because he’s not in rhythm. However, Šime’s arrival is of great importance; he will certainly play at least one game. I am thinking of starting him in the match against Slovenia, but first, I have to see what condition he is in. I will not force it if he is not one hundred percent ready,” concluded Dalić.
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