Zlatko Dalic said that dealing with the prospect of facing France in the World Cup final on Sunday would wait as Croatia celebrated an historic first appearance in football’s showpiece event.
Dalic’s men saw off England in extra-time at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, when they bounced back from Kieran Trippier’s fifth-minute opener to eventually triumph 2-1. Mario Mandzukic grabbed the decisive goal in the second period of additional time.
The victory ensured Croatia reached the World Cup final for the first time, where they will take on France on Sunday in a repeat of the 1998 semi-final. Croatia lost that encounter 2-1 before going on to secure bronze – until Wednesday their best performance at a global finals.
Asked about facing France, Dalic, the former Al Ain manager, said: “There is no weakness in a team that is in the final. They are a top-drawer team with fantastic players. But we are going to discuss France tomorrow. We’re taking it step by step.
“We’ve entered the final today. We’re going to celebrate, to rest and then we will prepare for France. We’re facing another daunting task, but it’s going to be a fantastic match.
"We are ready for it. I am sure everybody will enjoy watching that match. I have huge respect for France.”
Against England, Croatia rebounded from the early concession to level matters through Ivan Perisic’s 68-minute strike. In pushing the match to extra-time they became the first team at a World Cup to go into an additional 30 minutes in three successive matches. Croatia had prevailed on penalties in both the last 16 and the quarter-finals, defeating Denmark and then tournament hosts Russia.
However, it was England who looked the more tired for large swathes of the game from the second-half onwards, as Croatia finally made count their dominance of the ball.
Asked why his side had won, Dalic said: “Because we were the better team in all segments of the game. We did not underestimate them. We respected them because we analysed them.
“We knew what they were doing and where. We played a high press on their backline. We closed down [John] Stones and [Jordan] Henderson; we nullified them. During half-time, I told the players ‘calmly pass the ball, do not lose your heads’."
In getting to the final, Croatia have surpassed the country's fabled 1998 side. Their route to the final in Russia has included a 3-0 win against Argentina in the groups, with Croatia finishing top of the group.
“This was our best game,” said Dalic, who managed Al Ain for three years until January last year. “We played today better than against Argentina.
“We were motivated and what I told these players before the game was ‘there’s no pressure, no nerves, don’t lose your head – you’ve reached the semi-final, be proud and enjoy your football’.
“And this is exactly what they did - they enjoyed their football.”