Zlatko Dalic has told his “great generation” of Croatia players it’s time to stop living off former glory and prove themselves at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Croatia beat Germany 3-0 in the quarter-finals and the Netherlands 1-0 in the third-place playoff at France 1998, but suffered group-stage elimination at Korea/Japan 2002, Germany 2006 and Brazil 2014 and failed to qualify for South Africa 2010.
“I have to say what is good and what is not,” Dalic told Dnevnik Nova TV. “Croatia haven’t done well in a World Cup since France 1998, and going on our quality, we should have.
“We have a brilliant generation of players who, like me, have to know that we can’t live on past glory. Ahead of us is the World Cup, and we have to be at our best there.”
The fact that Croatia could have three representatives in European club football’s biggest fixture – Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren and Real Madrid pair Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic – excites Dalic.
“I’m very proud that Croatia has three players in the Champions League final, which proves our quality,” said the 51-year-old. “They won’t be tired and will come to Russia full of confidence and motivation.”
Dalic also has the likes of Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perisic (both Inter Milan), Nikola Kalinic (AC Milan) and Mario Mandzukic (Juventus) at his disposal, and he intends to maintain his faith in them rather than gamble on youngsters at Russia 2018.
“This week we will define a larger squad, and it will comprise players who have spent the last two-three years in the national team,” said the former midfielder. “There will be no big surprises.
“We have great players and a great generation, and we have to believe in this generation at the World Cup. They got us there and we should give them a chance.
“I’m looking forward to seeing a group of youngsters who are the future of Croatian football. But we will introduce them in the [UEFA] Nations League in the autumn to give them the chance to show their quality. It will be best for [Borno] Sosa, [Filip] Benkovic, [Duje] Caleta-Car, [Nikola] Vlasic, [Ante] Rebic to enter a new cycle for the EURO 2020 qualifiers and the Nations League.”
Croatia face Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland in an examining Group D at Russia 2018, which is something their coach embraces.
“I’ve always said I wanted tough matches and tough opponents, and we can only progress as a team by playing against top sides and [learning from] our mistakes,” said Dalic. “We don’t need weaker opponents. Perhaps it’s risky of me to feel this way, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”