Belfast Telegraph

English disrespect gave us extra incentive, says Dalic


History boys: Croatia’s coach Zlatko Dalic and Luka Modric
History boys: Croatia’s coach Zlatko Dalic and Luka Modric

By Matt Slater

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has echoed the claims made by Dejan Lovren and Luka Modric that his side had "extra motivation" to beat England in the World Cup semi-final on Wednesday because of disrespect from the English media.

Lovren said he had been annoyed about questions relating to a poor performance he had for Liverpool against Harry Kane's Tottenham last autumn, while Modric said "English journalists, pundits from television" had underestimated Croatia.

The Real Madrid star, who was repeatedly and universally praised in the British media in the build-up to the game, said they should "be more humble and respect opponents more".

Speaking a day after his side's historic win, Dalic said: "There is always some extra motivation and we always respect our opponents. Maybe the English team should have respected us more, especially when you consider where our players play, but this is football and sport.

"Maybe there was extra motivation because of (comments in the English media), but there was also motivation to play in the final and make our fans and country happy."

Dalic was asked by international reporters if his side would be tired for Sunday's final against France after playing extra-time for a third straight match - just as British journalists asked him if they would be tired after two lots of extra-time before the semi-final.

The 51-year-old gave a similar response, saying any fatigue his players might feel would be cancelled out by the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, although he did admit that Croatia have taken a "difficult path" and will effectively have played a game more than France, who also have an extra day to recover.

Asked if he was concerned about N'Golo Kante's ability to stifle Modric or France's ability to soak up pressure and then hit teams on the break, Dalic said he was confident in his players.

Dalic repeated his claim that Croatia's progress to Russia 2018's final was "a miracle" considering the country's population of just over four million, its young but troubled history and the relative poverty of its domestic football infrastructure.

He was also asked about his own path to the final, having left Croatia in 2010 to coach a new side in Saudi Arabia. From there he moved to Saudi Arabia's biggest club, Al-Hilal, and then took charge of the United Arab Emirates' top side Al-Ain.

But after seven years in the Middle East, Dalic was given a chance to rescue Croatia's faltering World Cup qualification campaign and the rest is history.

He said he had to go because European teams "look for brand names" and tended to go for "big names, big money, big mistakes", whereas Croatian coaches have been underrated.

That may change now, especially if his "compact" and never-say-die side can beat France.

"Lionel Messi is the best in the world and Neymar is very close, but those teams who relied on stars have gone," added Dalic. "We have been compact, united and have fought for everything."

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