- Zlatko Dalic stayed at the helm of Croatia after the World Cup final
- He wants to write a new chapter and led his team to UEFA EURO 2020 qualification
- He talks about the difficulties encountered and the recipe for Croatian success
For Zlatko Dalic and Croatia, Russia 2018 will always be a special memory. But while the curtain had just fallen on the FIFA World Cup™ and on the historic path to the final, one question was already occupying all minds: what next?
Like striker Mario Mandzukic or goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, some managers have chosen to retire. Faced with these departures and offers from several foreign clubs, Dalic himself had to take stock of his situation. “I realized I could never do better,” he says at the FIFA.com.
In the end, his sense of duty convinced him to continue the adventure. So he embarked on a new challenge: to refresh and reform his group. After a period of turbulence after the World Cup, Croatia validated their ticket to UEFA EURO 2020 by finishing first in their group.
Led by experienced players, such as Luka Modric, and promising youngsters, Croatia approaches this competition with a costume it knows well, that of trouble-fest. A few months before the tournament, Dalic talks about the difficulties he faced, the changes in his life and the reasons why he stayed.
Do you find out about qualifying for the Euros after finishing first in your group?
It’s always rewarding to fulfill your goals. Qualifications are never simple and these have been no exception. We have been able to respond to important moments and we deserve this first place. When we had to raise our level of play to get points, we did it. It shows that this group does not lack talent or character. I’m happy because we’ve introduced new elements to the team, without the performance being affected. It’s all the more interesting because we’ve kept our team spirit and our fans are always behind us. This unit made the difference during the World Cup and it will still be very valuable to us in the future.
What difficulties did you encounter after the World Cup and how did you resolve them?
Several very important players have left the national team, such as Mario Mandzukic. It was also to be expected that the rest of the team would come down to earth after this wonderful World Cup. We have chosen to respond to this situation by integrating young, ambitious and talented players. I am thinking in particular of Josip Brekalo and Nikola Vlasic, who played a key role during the qualifiers. We also found an excellent striker in the person of Bruno Petkovic. We were able to discover new faces, while maintaining our level of play thanks to exceptional players like Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic.
In terms of tactics or motivation, have your opponents taken a different approach since the World Cup final?
Now, facing Croatia has become an important opportunity for many teams. We feel a lot of energy, concentration and, above all, the desire to beat the vice-champions of the world. We are aware of that and we are preparing accordingly. The others always give the best against us, which is not easy to manage in the long run. Of course, the competitors we are love challenges. We want to prove that we deserve our silver medal. I have a team of competitors who like to represent their country and who know full well that a place on the national team should be considered a privilege.
How has your life changed since the World Cup?
She’s totally changed. Now everyone knows me in Croatia. On the other hand, I hope I haven’t changed. My parents taught me to stay humble, respect everyone and work hard. That’s why I try to live today like I did before the World Cup.
You feel that success in the World Cup did not have enough impact. What should we do?
I am thinking above all of the infrastructure and the relations that the national and local authorities have with football. I am surprised that the World Cup finalists do not even have a dedicated stadium in Zagreb, which is still the capital of Croatia and the city where we play most of our matches. Our football infrastructure remains very poor and well below the level of our football. Our supporters, our team, our youth selections… we all deserve the country to invest in football because we will have a hard time staying at the level of other countries without that money.
Is Croatia going through a transition period from Russia 2018?
If you look at the team that started the World Cup final and the team that finished qualifying for the Euro, there have been a lot of changes. We are less experienced today, but in some areas we are even stronger. Our 4-0 win in Slovakia is probably one of the best performances I have seen as a coach, including during the World Cup. It proves that Croatia can give any opponent a hard time, not only at the Euros, but in the years to come.
You will meet the Czech Republic, England and a team from the play-offs. What will be your challenges in the first round?
It’s a tough group. The match against England will be the most complicated match. The English will have the advantage of playing at home, but the pressure will be even greater on them. It’s not always easy to manage. We have already beaten them at Wembley in 2007. We will try to repeat the feat. But there are other important meetings. The Czech Republic is a strong team and our third opponent, whoever it is, will certainly cause us problems. Our goal is to qualify for the next phase. We will then try to recreate the magic that allowed us to go so far in Russia. We’re not among the favorites, but it doesn’t mean much. We come with the conviction that we can beat anyone, like eight or nine other countries. All this should offer us an exciting tournament.
You’ve received offers since the World Cup. Why did you stay the head of the selection?
I appreciate my job. After the World Cup, I knew perfectly well that I could never do better, unless I won the Euros, but I felt I owed something to my team and our fans. We received so much affection and love from them that I had to think of them. For a coach, there is no greater honour than leading his country’s team. It’s priceless. There will always be other offers, but being in a position to bring extraordinary moments of happiness to all your compatriots is something priceless.