Zlatko Dalic: Croatia will be ready for World Cup semi-final showdown with England
The Croatians will play in Moscow on Wednesday, having had to play 120 minutes and go to penalties in both their other knockout games in Russia
Zlatko Dalic insists his Croatia side will be ready for their World Cup semi-final with England on Wednesday.
The former Al Ain manager, who coached the Garden City club for three years until January last year, guided his country into the last four for the first time in 20 years on Saturday, when a dramatic penalty-shootout victory against hosts Russia in Sochi sealed their progression.
Initially 1-0 down, Croatia rallied and took a 2-1 lead in extra-time, before defender Mario Fernandes scored for the home side with five minutes of the additional period remaining.
However, Russia missed twice from the spot - Fernandes being one - before Ivan Rakitic kept his cool to convert and win the penalties 4-3.
Croatia, who only once before reached the semi-finals, in 1998, now take on England in Moscow for a place in the final, but they will need to recover quickly.
Saturday’s shootout was the second consecutive match in which they have played 120 minutes and more, coming six days after their last-16 win against Denmark.
In contrast, England enjoyed a relatively straightforward quarter-final on Saturday, defeating Sweden 2-0 in Samara.
“It was not a beautiful game,” said Dalic, who broke down in tears on the pitch immediately following the triumph. “It was a fight, a battle. We were lucky, thank God. After Rakitic scored the winning penalty it came bursting out of me.
"I felt really relieved. We made ourselves happy, but we also made everyone back home in Croatia happy. I don’t cry often, but now I have a good cause because we are in the semi‑finals of the World Cup."
As to their prospects against Gareth Southgate's England when they meet at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Dalic remains confident his players will be up to the task.
“Do we have enough power left to beat England? Of course. There is some power left or the English. We don’t want to stop. We’ll try to play our best game, we’re very motivated and it will be a battle again.
“England breezed past Sweden, they scored twice, they were better. They are a young, alive, attacking team. We will think about them tomorrow. There are no favourites at this World Cup. Every game is 50/50."
Belgium and France contest the other semi-final - it takes place in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday - in what has been one of the most open global finals in recent memory.
“Many big teams are home; those who are compact and well organised are here in Russia," Dalic said. "This is the character of the four teams in the semi-final.”
Captain Luka Modric added: “Maybe it is written in the stars that we have to go through this drama. It’s our second time in the semi-finals, after 1998, and it makes us extremely proud and happy. After 20 years, we’ve reached a semi‑final of a World Cup.
“We have been unlucky at other tournaments but now we’re collecting those debts this year. Hopefully, we’ll go a step further than in ‘98. We have all the requisites for that. We have a great team and a great coach.”
Updated: July 8, 2018 02:12 PM