Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic said that dealing with the prospect of facing France in the FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia final on Sunday would wait as Croatia celebrated a historic first appearance in soccer’s showpiece event.
The Croats saw off England in extra-time at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, when they came from behind with Kieran Trippier’s fifth-minute opener to in due course triumph 2-1. Mario Mandzukic grabbed the decisive goal in the second period of added time.
The win ensured Dalic’s men reached the FIFA World Cup final for the first time, where they will play France on Sunday in a repeat of the 1998 semi-final. Croatia lost that game 2-1 before proceeding to secure bronze – until Wednesday their best performance at an international final.
When asked about facing France, Dalic said: “There is no weakness in a team that is in the final. They are a top-drawer team with fantastic players. But we are going to discuss France tomorrow. We’re taking it step by step.
“We’ve entered the final today. We’re going to celebrate, to rest and then we will prepare for France. We’re facing another daunting task, but it’s going to be a fantastic match.
“We are ready for it. I am sure everybody will enjoy watching that match. I have huge respect for France.”
Asked why his side had won, the former Al Ain manager said: “Because we were the better team in all segments of the game. We did not underestimate them. We respected them because we analysed them.
“We knew what they were doing and where. We played a high press on their backline. We closed down [John] Stones and [Jordan] Henderson; we nullified them. During half-time, I told the players ‘calmly pass the ball, do not lose your heads’.”
In getting to this summer World Cup final, Croatia have gone beyond the country's fabled 1998 side. Their road to the final in Russia has included a 3-0 victory against Argentina in the groups, a 2-0 victory against Nigeria and a win over Iceland with Croatia finishing top of Group D.
“This was our best game,” said Dalic, who was Al Ain manager for three years until January last year.
“We played today better against Argentina.
“We were motivated and what I told these players before the game was ‘there’s no pressure, no nerves, don’t lose your head – you’ve reached the semi-final, be proud and enjoy your football’.
“And this is exactly what they did – they enjoyed their football.”
This article was most recently revised and updated 3 years ago