Dalic rues penalty decision in Croatia's World Cup semi-final defeat to Argentina

Manager admits South Americans deserved to qualify for title match

Croatia's Luka Modric with coach Zlatko Dalic during the World Cup semi-final at the Lusail Stadium. AP
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Zlatko Dalic was left to rue the penalty decision that he says changed Croatia’s World Cup semi-final against Argentina, but he still conceded the South Americans deserved to reach Sunday’s showpiece.

Croatia, runners-up in Russia in 2018, were beaten 3-0 by Lionel Messi and teammates at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday night.

Messi, the Argentine captain, opened the scoring with a 34th-minute penalty after Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic collided with opposing forward Julian Alvarez.

Croatia protested the award, with midfielder Mateo Kovacic seemingly booked for making his point too forcefully. Dalic said also that his side should have had a corner before Argentina broke forward to earn the spot-kick.

In the post-match press conference, the former Al Ain manager said: "Everything was in our hands. We played well for half an hour and had possession. We were not a threat but did have control.

"We conceded a goal, which was very suspicious. The situation leading to the penalty... it was a little too cheap, a bit too easy to be honest.

"Our goalkeeper did what he did and these are the new rules. This goal took the match in a different direction."

Dalic, who four years ago guided Croatia to their best World Cup finish, did open his press conference by congratulating Argentina on their win.

However, he lamented the lack of a genuine goalscorer in the squad saying that, while his team had plenty of possession, they failed to really threaten their opponents. Croatia now face the loser in the other semi-final, between France and Morocco, in Saturday’s third-place play-off.

"We have prepared everything but we missed a real, genuine attacker," he said.

"We lost the match. I have nothing to complain about regarding the boys. They gave their best during this whole tournament.... It is a deserved defeat.

"I congratulate Argentina on the victory. We have to pull ourselves together, raise our heads. I can't blame the boys for anything - we are going into the fight for third place. We don't have much to complain about."

Dalic said his team created "good situations" but failed to produce clear-cut chances.

Asked if this was the conclusion of the cycle of stars that took Croatia to successive World Cup semi-finals – captain Luka Modric is 37 – Dalic said: "Perhaps this is the end of the World Cup generation for a couple of them who have reached a certain age. We'll have to see for the 2026 World Cup.

"I believe this generation will slowly finish off their career at Euro 2024.

"It's an excellent generation who two times in a row reached the semi-finals. It would have been excellent if they'd won the trophy as a crowning moment."

Dalic, who managed UAE club Al Ain before taking the Croatia job, was quizzed about his own future in the aftermath of the defeat, but replied: "I will continue. My contract is to 2024, after the European Championships, and in six months we have the League of Nations and we have World Cup qualifiers. My plan is to take Croatia to Euro 2024."

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Updated: December 14, 2022, 7:01 AM