Moscow: Croatia’s fairytale run to the World Cup final is a footballing ‘miracle’ built on a foundation of teamwork and unity which has seen them outlast sides reliant on brilliant individual talent, coach Zlatko Dalic said.
“For me, Messi is the best player in the world and Neymar is very close,” Dalic told a news conference, Thursday.
“But at this World Cup, the star-studded teams relying on the big names are already on the beach. It’s the compact, united teams fighting for something that are still around.
“It’s been the strangest World Cup. Football has advanced so much so any team can have well-organised defence, so there are no huge winning margins and the team game is everything. This was our problem for 10 years, we had great individuals but no unity and that’s why I had to build that unity of purpose in the team,” added Dalic.
Not one man show
Croatia are hardly a team of no names, however, a fact that Dalic was quick to point out when asked if England had disrespected his team with their confidence before the semifinal.
In Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic they have the midfield engines of both Real Madrid and Barcelona, while the scorer of their winner against the Three Lions, Mario Mandzukic, won the Champions League with Bayern Munich and now plays for Juventus.
“Modric has had a brilliant season with Real Madrid and here, he’s still sprinting about the pitch in the 115th minute,” said the coach. “I think he has been the player of the tournament regardless of the result on Sunday.”
But then Croatia are not just all about Mordich as the game against England showed. Mordich, initially looked a bit jaded, even deep into the second half, but the likes of Sime Vrsaljko, Ivan Strinic and substitute came into the party. Vrsaljko is not your average right-back. At times he operates as a world-class winger whose power, accuracy in crosses and passes have little to do with that of a full-time defender. It was from his cross that Ivan Perisic connected to level. Then it was Pivaric’s cross that enabled Mario Mandzukic the chance to score the winner.
France will obviously need to use N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba’s power and stamina to rein in Modric and Rakitic early but their defence must also be equally alert to the danger from the wings if they are to shut out the Croats and lift their second World Cup.