Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has challenged his players to rise to the challenge of a tough Russia 2018 World Cup group and surpass the feat of their predecessors who finished third on the country’s debut at France 1998.
Since their impressive performance at the 1998 World Cup with players like Davor Šuker, Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinečki and Slaven Bilić, Croatia were eliminated at the group stages at Korea/Japan 2002, Germany 2006 and Brazil 2014 and failed to qualify for the South Africa 2010 World Cup.
And looking forward to this year’s edition, Dalic said his star-studded side must prove themselves in Russia.
“I have to say what is good and what is not,” Dalic told Dnevnik Nova TV monitored by FIFA.com. “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.”
Croatia are drawn in Group D with Nigeria, two-time champions Argentina and debutants Iceland. Examining the group, Dalic stated he is excited Croatia will be facing very tough opponents.
“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.”
He expressed delight that three of his players Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic (both for Real Madrid) will be in the final of this season’s UEFA Champions League.
“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.”
And on his squad for the 2018 World Cup, the former midfielder said: “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. 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.”