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Croatia coach Dalic traveled hard path to World Cup final

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MOSCOW (AP) — In a coaching journey across Croatia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Zlatko Dalic’s belief in his own abilities never dimmed.

[ MORE: Southgate “the backbone of this team; the man’s a gentleman” ]

“I used to say, ‘Give me a Barcelona or a Real Madrid and I will win titles,’” Dalic recalled Thursday.

Such jobs no longer seem so far out of reach, especially if Dalic collects the biggest prize in soccer on Sunday. Croatia will win the World Cup for the first time if Dalic’s team can get the better of France and coach Didier Deschamps.

Receiving trophies is nothing new for Deschamps. As a player, the midfielder won titles at clubs in France, Italy and England, as well as the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship with France. As a coach, he led France to the Euro 2016 final, losing to Portugal.

But the 51-year-old Dalic had a largely unremarkable playing career before switching to coaching in his native Croatia.

[ MORE: Mourinho: England needs to keep coaches for next World Cup ]

“In my life I have always taken the harder path, had to fight for everything myself,” Dalic said through a translator at Luzhniki Stadium. “I started at the bottom of the ladder.”

The climb required a leap into the unknown with a move to the Middle East in 2010.

“I did not want to stay in Croatia and be a middling coach and to live off handouts,” Dalic said. “I went abroad whenever it was possible to find a job.”

Dalic eventually landed at Al-Hilal, where he won the Saudi Crown Prince Cup, and then reached the Asian Champions League final with Al-Ain.

“We cannot sneeze at that. These are major competitions,” Dalic said. “This brought me huge experience … and I built a name for myself. This was a hard path but I believed in myself. When Croatia called, I never had any doubts.”

[ TRANSFER RUMORS: Malcom to Spurs, Bale to Man Utd “advanced” ]

The call that ended Dalic’s nomadic seven-year journey came last year, when Croatia had a game remaining to salvage qualification.

“He is very dedicated to football,” Croatian federation president Davor Suker said, “and we gave him the chance.”

Dalic led Croatia into the World Cup playoffs, where it beat Ukraine over two matches. Now he has taken his country further than ever before in a major soccer competition, eclipsing Suker’s semifinalists in 1998.

Brand Dalic is growing after Croatia came from behind to beat England 2-1 in the semifinal in Moscow on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Deschamps: EURO heartbreak drives France to World Cup final ]

“The coach has created a special atmosphere,” said Croatia defender Dejan Lovren, who plays for Liverpool. “He knows exactly how to interact with players and does it in a unique way.”

Dalic also relished interacting with the media on Thursday in the stadium where Croatia plays its biggest-ever game on Sunday. The highly ambitious coach used his moment in the spotlight to advertise his credentials.

“Nothing was given to me on a plate, unlike some managers in Europe who can be given jobs to manage a big club because of their names as players,” Dalic said.

Guardiola credits Gundogan for “outstanding” match in Ukraine

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Manchester City bounced back from its weekend loss to Norwich City by dominating Shakhtar Donestk, collecting a 3-0 win in Ukraine to start life in this UEFA Champions League season.

Ilkay Gundogan, a scapegoat for some in the weekend’s loss to Norwich City, came back to form, too, chipping in a goal and an assist in the win.

[ RECAP: Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Man City ]

City manager Pep Guardiola was asked whether the German midfielder flies under the radar.

“He gets the credit from all of us, not just myself,” Guardiola said, via The Manchester Evening News. “He’s an exceptional player. Also he knows how good he has to play, as there are many others in that position.”

Guardiola also credited Gundogan for his work last season. Just like Fernandinho is playing out-of-position now, Gundogan was filling in for the Brazilian last season.

“People are starting to look at what he’s done. Without him last season when Fernanindho was out we couldn’t have won the Premier League in the way we did. He can play in two or three different positions and against Shakhtar he made an outstanding performance.”

As for Fernandinho, the Brazilian said that he’s been training at center back plenty this season, even before injuries to John Stones and Aymeric Laporte.

Fernandinho said “everyone should be ready” for any role under Guardiola.

He was good enough on the day, partnering with Nicolas Otamendi in a move that has many making comparisons to what Guardiola did with midfielder Javier Mascherano at Barcelona.

That’s one of the things for which Guardiola, perhaps, has not received enough credit. Center midfielders Fabian Delph or Oleksandr Zinchenko have been serviceable left backs in two of the best seasons in Premier League history (The latter did get some minutes in the middle when Benjamin Mendy subbed in on Wednesday). And Gundogan is playing a more defensive role than usual, while Fernandinho is a center back.

If that works out, and City claims a UCL crown or PL three-peat, how could you not call this man the clear-cut best of the modern era?

UCL wrap: PSG runs over Real; Atalanta clobbered on debut

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Real Madrid, UEFA Champions League goals, and Angel Di Maria go together pretty well.

[ MORE: Man Utd extends Lindelof ]

The man who scored a decisive goal for Real in a UCL Final scored two as Paris Saint-Germain throttled the 10-time champions in France without Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani, and Neymar.

PSG 3-0 Real Madrid

If it’s possible for Zinedine Zidane to feel heat under his seat, it’s probably happening right about now.

Real Madrid was absolutely cooked by a clinical PSG missing its trident, with Di Maria scoring two goals in the win.

Juan Bernat was exceptional in the win, and set up two goals including Thomas Meunier’s late insurance tally.

Dinamo Zagreb 4-0 Atalanta

The Serie A visitors made their UEFA Champions League debut, and boy did it fall flat.

Down 1-0 early on a Marin Leovac opener, Atalanta surrendered a hat trick to Mislav Orsic in the loss. The 26-year-old midfielder is fresh off his first cap for Croatia. More seem on the horizon, yeah?

Considering their group includes Man City and Shakhtar Donetsk, La Dea won’t appreciate losing four goals in the differential column against a perceived bottom dweller for the group.

Elsewhere

Olympiacos 2-2 Tottenham — RECAP, Pochettino reaction
Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Man City — RECAP
Atletico Madrid 2-2 Juventus — RECAP
Club Brugge 0-0 Galatasaray
Bayer Leverkusen 1-2 Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayern Munich 3-0 Red Star Belgrade

Atletico Madrid erases 2-goal deficit in Juventus draw

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s going to like Diego Simeone a little bit less today — if possible — as the Argentine manager engineered a come-from-behind draw to get a measure of revenge for last season’s knockout round ouster.

[ RELATED: Shakhtar 0-3 Man City ]

And Ronaldo won’t be too happy with himself, either, as the Juve star missed a chance to win it in stoppage time, moments after Atletico Madrid had scored the final goal of 2-2 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano.

That left Mexican star Hector Herrera the unabashed hero, as he headed home in stoppage time.

Juve scored a beauty to open it, with Juan Cuadrado spinning a left-footed wonder strike that painted the side netting.

Blaise Matuidi had Juve up 2-0, but Atleti pulled one back via a Stefan Savic header off a set piece in the 70th minute.

That’s when Herrera nodded his goal home.

But Ronaldo… how often has he scored this kind of goal in this competition?

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Man City midfield controls Shakhtar in Ukraine

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Manchester City got its UEFA Champions League run off to a convincing start, easing some nerves from the weekend with a 3-0 defeat of Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan set each other up for goals, Gabriel Jesus also scored, and Fernandinho partnered with Nicolas Otamendi at center back to earn the clean sheet.


Three things we learned

1. Midfield runs the match: Center backs aren’t all that vital if the ball never gets to them, and Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri were exceptional (even with the latter taking an early yellow card). Rodri completed every single one of his 82 passes in helping City control the park, departing with less than a quarter-hour to play.

2. De Bruyne dangerous on an off day: Kevin De Bruyne just couldn’t find that final ball, constantly in dangerous areas but unable to execute that moment. Credited with three key passes including th, his shooting was the glaring difference between 3-0 and 5-0.

3. Shakhtar shows creative flair: Taison and Marlos both showed a knack for taking on defenders, each credited with four dribbles on the day. It was Shakhtar’s best chance to break down a disciplined City, and the closest the hosts came to succeeding on the day.

Man of the Match: Rodri


A Kevin De Bruyne free kick provided an early threat, but Rodri’s header was a bit off and unable to open the scoring in Ukraine.

Shakhtar then had a nice spell of possession, but City was up to the task. Rodri led a chance in the other direction and sent a ball back De Bruyne for a header, which was wide like the first.

Mahrez put City ahead on a rebound after Ilkay Gundogan took a Gabriel Jesus feed and pushed the ball off the post.

The Algerian didn’t need a post to return the favor, sending a delightful pass into the path of Gundogan for a smooth finish an 2-0.

De Bruyne finally got his assist when he took care of a bounding ball to Jesus for a chop into the goal.