WORLD CUP 2018

Croatia have 'score to settle'

Left: Croatia's Mario Mandzukic celebrates with team-mates after scoring their second goal in extra time which sealed a 2-1 win over England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Below: Croatian midfielder Ivan Perisic outjumps England's Kyle Walker to
Croatia's Mario Mandzukic celebrates with team-mates after scoring their second goal in extra time which sealed a 2-1 win over England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. PHOTO: REUTERS
Left: Croatia's Mario Mandzukic celebrates with team-mates after scoring their second goal in extra time which sealed a 2-1 win over England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Below: Croatian midfielder Ivan Perisic outjumps England's Kyle Walker to
Croatian midfielder Ivan Perisic outjumps England's Kyle Walker to score the equaliser in the 68th minute.PHOTO: REUTERS

Coach Dalic wants revenge for 1998 defeat by France and insists fatigue will not be a factor

MOSCOW • Zlatko Dalic was in France for the 1998 World Cup when Croatia played in their first major tournament as an independent nation.

The former defensive midfielder was not part of the national team but watched his country's first three group-stage games as a supporter. He missed the knockout stages as he had to rush back to his then Croatian club Hajduk Split for pre-season training.

France, then captained by current national coach Didier Deschamps, ended Croatia's dream run when they won 2-1 in the semi-finals before going on to claim the title.

Twenty years on, Dalic has led his country to a first World Cup final and has the opportunity to avenge the painful defeat by Les Bleus.

Croatia will meet France in Moscow on Sunday after they came from behind to beat England 2-1 in the semi-finals on Wednesday.

Mario Mandzukic scored the winner in the 109th minute after Ivan Perisic had earlier cancelled out Kieran Trippier's free-kick opener.

"Of course, everybody in Croatia remembers (Lilian) Thuram, the 2-1 (loss). This has been the discussion for the last 20 years," said Dalic, who was appointed only last October towards the end of their qualifying campaign and led them to a play-off win against Greece.

"Maybe this game has a historic significance. The chance to settle a score."

The biggest concern for Croatia ahead of Sunday's final is fatigue, as they also required extra time and penalties to come through against Denmark in the last 16 and hosts Russia in the quarter-finals.

France will have 24 hours longer to prepare for the game after edging out Belgium 1-0 in 90 minutes in St Petersburg on Tuesday.

But Dalic is confident fatigue will not be an issue for his side.

"Two players played with half a leg, but it didn't show. In extra time, nobody wanted to be substituted. This shows character and is what makes me proud. Nobody gave up," said Dalic. "Going to extra time might be a problem along with the fact France have an extra day to recover, but there will be no excuses. We have to play as if this were the first game in this tournament."

It was a tactical switch from Dalic that resulted in the equaliser. Wide players Perisic and Ante Rebic were pushed into more advanced roles with Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic feeding them quickly, while full-backs Sime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic got forward more too.

With Trippier and Ashley Young under pressure, England's midfield began to be stretched with Jordan Henderson taking on an unmanageable workload and Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli more preoccupied with helping out the defenders than asking questions of Croatia's backline.

"We were the better team in all aspects of the game," said Dalic.

Captain Modric admitted that his team had used the lack of respect shown by English journalists and pundits as motivation.

"People were talking… English journalists, pundits from television," Modric told ITV. "They underestimated Croatia tonight and that was a huge mistake.

"We were saying, 'OK, today we will see who will be tired'. They should be more humble and respect their opponents more."

With a population of just over four million, Croatia are the smallest country to reach a World Cup final since Uruguay in 1950.

"For Croatian football and Croatia as a country, this is history being written," said Dalic. "We are going to play England in the League of Nations (in October) and we don't have a proper stadium to play that game.

"But we have our hearts, our pride and our players and that is what is really important to us."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2018, with the headline 'Croatia have 'score to settle''. Print Edition | Subscribe