AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Dalic: In one day, Croatia went from lucky to unlucky

6 Comments

Ante Cacic’s Croatia was on pace to miss out on the World Cup.

Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia rallied the troops to second place in their qualifying group, a playoff defeat of Greece, and a run to the World Cup Final.

Pretty decent stuff.

[ MORE: FIFA awards Golden Ball, Golden Glove ]

And surely the 51-year-old will reflect on that, probably even this evening, but he’s more focused on a letdown after Sunday’s 4-2 loss to highly-favored France.

Key to the match was a penalty awarded to France when a partially-obscured Mario Mandzukic handled a ball inside the 18, leading to Antoine Griezmann’s pivotal goal.

The PK was awarded via VAR, and France went up 2-1 en route to a three-goal lead. From the AFP:

“I never comment on referees but in a World Cup final you do not give such a penalty,” said Dalic.

“It in no way diminishes France’s win. We were a bit unlucky. Maybe in the first six games we were favored by luck and today we weren’t.

“I have to congratulate my players. Maybe today we played our best game at these championships. Against such a strong side as France you must not make mistakes. We are a bit sad but we must also be proud of what we’ve done.”

Croatia had two-thirds of the ball and doubled France’s shot attempts, and Dalic isn’t the least bit controversial in wondering whether the match is much different if that penalty goes unawarded by referee Nestor Pitana.

Croatia coach Dalic traveled hard path to World Cup final

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
Leave a comment

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.

Croatia goalkeeper Subasic honors late friend at World Cup

AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
1 Comment

SOCHI, Russia (AP) Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic has worn a shirt with the picture of former teammate Hrvoje Custic under his jersey for years, his way of honoring a close friend who died a decade ago.

Even talking about Custic during a time of pride and enjoyment, like Croatia being in the World Cup quarterfinals, makes Subasic emotional as he broke down in tears on Tuesday when asked about his friend.

“That’s what happens,” Subasic said through tears. “What happened to him you know the story. I don’t think from my side there is need for extra explanation on that question.”

Subasic’s name is on everyone’s lips back home in Croatia after his performance in the round of 16 win over Denmark, making three saves in the penalty shootout. That effort helped put Croatia into the quarterfinals for the first time since 1998.

Yet Custic is always on Subasic’s mind and under his jersey. While Subasic was getting praise after the Denmark performance, he was dedicating it to Custic, who died in 2008 after being injured during a game falling into a concrete wall near the sideline of a field. Custic died a few days after being injured.

Subasic has honored his friend since, and he’s also earned the respect of his teammates.

“He has a great positive energy about him and he’s always showing his emotion, including today,” Croatian defender Domagoj Vida said.

It’s been a wild few days for Subasic since his effort against Denmark, which included being asked about falling off of Vida’s shoulders during the celebration after the victory.

“He’s OK. Ready for the next game,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said with a bemused look.

But Subasic deserved to be celebrated – maybe without being dropped – for what he did in the shootout against Denmark. Most coaches are thrilled if a goalkeeper can stop one penalty attempt. Three is rare. Subasic was the first goalkeeper to stop three penalty attempts in a shootout since Portugal keeper Ricardo in 2006 against England.

The first save was likely his best when Subasic was able to get a piece of Christian Eriksen‘s strike and tip it off the post. It also set the tone for the rest of the attempts to come.

“Penalties are always a lottery. You don’t know what is going to happen. Sometimes you guess a side correctly. Sometimes a player doesn’t shoot that well. There are no rules, it can be a bad or a good day. It’s pretty much based on luck,” Dalic said. ” … But that is why Subasic is here to help us and save us when necessary and we are thankful to him for that.”

Subasic hasn’t received the same amount of attention as other goalkeepers in the tournament – many of whom are already back home. He wasn’t even the man of the match against Denmark, despite his penalty saves. That honor went to the other goalkeeper, Denmark’s Kasper Schmeichel who deserved his own praise for stopping Luka Modric’s penalty attempt in extra time, then saving two more attempts in the shootout.

But perhaps Subasic is worthy of more praise and perhaps more attention from some of the bigger clubs in Europe. He’s been a stalwart for Monaco in France’s top division since arriving on the Mediterranean coast in 2012. He was part of the group that got Monaco promoted to Ligue 1 and eventually among the elite clubs in France’s top division, playing deep into the Champions League.

Two seasons ago, Subasic was named the goalkeeper of the year in Ligue 1. He’s allowed only one goal in the three matches he’s played in Russia, that coming in the opening moments against Denmark on a scramble in the penalty area.

“I’m glad that I’ve been able to contribute to the success of the team,” Subasic said. “Of course we are all leading really nice days, but in football it changes quite a bit. You’re up one day, you’re down the next one. But now we are enjoying the days here in Russia.”

More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

2018 World Cup team preview: Croatia

Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Getting to know Croatia: Once part of Yugoslavia, Croatia claimed third place at its first World Cup in 1998. It’s been group stage only in the three of four tournaments since, and Vatreni has plenty of work to do in a Group D with no light days.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

No one’s going to like seeing Croatia on its fixture list, with Real Madrid’s Luka Modric joined by Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic and myriad others with world-class skills and resumes.

For more history on Croatia, click here.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 


What group are they in? D


Game schedule – Group D – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Saturday, June 16: Croatia v Nigeria, Kaliningrad 3 p.m. ET
Thursday, June 21: Argentina v Croatia, Nizhny Novgorod 2 p.m. ET
Tuesday, June 26: Iceland v Croatia, Rostov-on-Don 2 p.m. ET


Projected lineup (4-2-3-1) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full

—– Subasic —–

— Vrsaljko — Corluka — Lovren — Vida

—- Badelj —- Rakitic —-

—- Rebic —- Modric —- Perisic —-

—- Kramaric —-


Star player: Luka Modric – The side’s best player is dealing with off-field issues, charged with perjury just this weekend in the same trial which saw ex-Dinamo Zagreb executive Zdravko Mamic sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison.

The 32-year-old midfielder continues to be a key piece for Real Madrid, where he’s won four Champions League crowns and a La Liga title. Four times in the UCL team of the season and thrice in the FIFPro World XI, Modric is one of the best players of his generation.


Manager: Zlatko Dalić – Dalic took over Croatia with the side’s World Cup fortunes in jeopardy and delivered a second place finish and playoff victory over Greece. By far his highest profile gig yet, Dalic has had success in UAE with Al-Ain.


Secret weapon: Ante Rebic — The 24-year-old has scored 12 goals and added five assists in two seasons at Eintracht Frankfurt, on loan for Fiorentina. Likely to serve up crosses and combinations as a super sub, you’ll likely remember his name if Croatia maks a run.


Prediction: Getting out of the opener against Nigeria undamaged is fine, though getting a win would be a massive bonus heading into a match-up with Argentina. Croatia can get out of this group, though finishing as runners-up means a likely match-up with France in the Round of 16.