After an inspired and instructive victory against Argentina, Dejan Lovren believes Croatia’s current crop showed they are superior to the country's much-celebrated 1998 side.
Zlatko Dalic’s men sealed a place in the World Cup last 16 on Thursday by recording a resounding 3-0 win in Nizhny Novgorod in their second Group D assignment. Ante Rebic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic got the goals as the two-time winners were put to the sword.
Although the result, helped somewhat by an error-strewn Argentina, came as a surprise to many, Lovren said he always believed such a performance was possible. He lauded the talent in the side, headlined by captain Modric and ably supported by the likes of Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic.
So much so, in fact, that the Liverpool centre-back feels the class of 2018 shades the 1998 team boasting Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban and Robert Prosinecki.
Then, Croatia reached the semi-finals and eventually finished third – their best result at the World Cup.
“We can do it better, of course,” said Lovren when asked if they can go further. “When you look on the team sheet we have better players than the previous one 20 years ago. But it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t prepare well. Like today, through all of the tournament I believe we can go a long way.”
Lovren stopped short at saying the Argentina triumph elevated Croatia to among the favourites for the title, citing Spain, France, Brazil and world champions Germany as the tournament’s obvious “big names”.
However, he said Thursday’s victory showed Croatia need not fear anyone. What is more, it would have sent out a statement to their rivals in Russia.
“I would say we are the underdogs and this is what helps us,” Lovren said. “The teams, and also now people, will realise they should respect Croatia. I would say that we have one of the toughest groups, but we showed we can manage to play under pressure. We deserved this win.”
A point against Iceland on Tuesday will guarantee Croatia finish top of the group and potentially avoid France in the first knockout round. Lovren said that, with success against Argentina and Nigeria already, the target is to clinch first place in the pool, although not because he wants to keep away from anyone.
“To be honest, I don’t mind,” he said. “Whoever comes we are ready to fight and even France or whoever, like I said, would know they have a tough opponent. We played a friendly against Brazil, [earlier this month, a 2-0 defeat], where we showed first half that we can play against, for me, one of the favourites also.
"We’re not to be scared about anyone. When you look today: 3-0 against Argentina. This is a big, big game. I don’t know when they last lost 3-0 at the World Cup.”
Lovren praised the collective for keeping Lionel Messi largely on the periphery, saying their plan to play a strong defensive block had paid dividends. He did reserve special praise for Modric, though, who was voted man of the match following a stunning curled finish that capped another commanding performance.
“Amazing,” Lovren said. “I said to him his goal reminded me of when he scored against Man United with Real Madrid. A similar goal, fantastic, and he was again one of the best players today.
“He has this calmness and so much experience in his career. He knows how to play these big games. It’s enjoyable to play with him.”