LUSAIL, Qatar - Croatia will leave the World Cup with no complaints and their heads held high after losing 3-0 to Argentina in the semi-finals, coach Zlatko Dalic said.
A Lionel Messi penalty and two goals by Julian Alvarez sent Argentina through at the expense of the 2018 runners-up and he said his team had suffered a “deserved defeat”.
“I congratulate Argentina on reaching the final,” the 56-year-old said.
“All we can do is pull ourselves together, raise our heads and go to the match for third place.
“Sometimes luck favours you, sometimes not. That’s the way it is.
“We have nothing to complain about.”
Croatia had the lion’s share of possession but just two shots on target, neither of which unduly troubled Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
Dalic was left to rue his team’s lack of cutting edge.
“We had a lot of good situations, but we weren’t mobile,” he added. “Especially in the attacking phase, we weren’t concrete. We lacked that one real attacker to break through. We didn’t do it.
“We know what we are and what we’re not. That’s it.
“When we conceded the third goal, it was really difficult to come back. It was a deserved defeat.
“If someone had offered us this before the World Cup, we would have accepted it, this is a great success for the Croatian national team and we are proud.”
Luka Modric, 37, is Croatia’s greatest player but he was upstaged by arguably the best of all time, Messi, as Argentina crushed his World Cup dreams.
Dalic boasted that Croatia – with Modric supported by Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic – had “the best midfield in the world” after their shock quarter-final elimination of Brazil on penalties.
That midfield has enabled a nation of just under four million to consistently compete with the world’s strongest teams, but they ran out of steam against a combative Argentina.
With Croatia 3-0 down, Modric was withdrawn nine minutes from the end for Lovro Majer – receiving warm applause from the capacity crowd of nearly 89,000.
The Real Madrid midfielder, who made his international debut way back in 2006, is surely in the final phase of his brilliant career.
Croatia will play France or Morocco on Saturday in the third place play-off.
They are also through to the last four of the Nations League, but that competition lacks the lustre of the World Cup and may not be enough to sway Modric to stay on.
The five-time Champions League winner, who has a record 161 caps for Croatia, will be almost 39 by the time Euro 2024 rolls around.
“Perhaps this is the end of the World Cup generation for a couple of them who have reached a certain age,” said Dalic, without specifying names.
“It would have been excellent if they’d won the trophy as a crowning moment.”
The 2018 Ballon d’Or winner has continued to catch the eye in Qatar – his longevity is highlighted by the fact that Mario Mandzukic, a year younger than Modric, is now part of the coaching staff.
“We’ve had a very good World Cup and it’s never a punishment to play for the national team,” said Modric.
“There’s a bronze at stake, so we need to be ready because it’s a good result if we get it.” REUTERS, AFP