Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic has insisted that Argentina are under greater pressure than his team heading into their World Cup semifinal clash in Qatar and spoke of his team’s “strength of character” as key to their advance through the tournament.
Croatia — in the semifinals for a second consecutive World Cup — continued preparations for their Tuesday-night showdown against Argentina with a training session at their tournament base in Al Ersal on Monday.
“It is a great thing to be among the four best national teams for two World Cups in a row. However, we want more,” Dalic told reporters.
“We are playing the great Argentina — a terrific team led by Lionel Messi. They are highly motivated, but they’re under greater pressure than Croatia at this particular moment in time,” he said.
“We have analysed our opponent. We know how they play. We know where they want to take the game, and we’re preparing for them,” he added.
Dalic said his team was ready to take on the Argentinians, and his squad’s skill and “strength of character” had carried them to the semifinals and he hoped it would take them further.
“We shall not adapt to our opponent too much. We know their strengths and weaknesses, but will continue to play our own game, and I hope it will yield the right result,” he said.
The semifinal match at Lusail Iconic Stadium will pit two of the greatest to wear a number 10 jersey against each other, with Argentina’s Lionel Messi, 35, and Croatia’s Luka Modric, 37, vying to be crowned champion for the first time at what is likely to be their final World Cup appearances.
Stamina and mental endurance will be crucial to success on the pitch.
Croatia and Argentina went through extra time and penalties in their quarterfinal victories over Brazil and Netherlands, while seven of the eighth knockout games Croatia played over the last four major international tournaments have gone to extra time, with the 4-2 defeat to France in the final of the 2018 World Cup the only exception as it concluded in 90 minutes.
‘They are going to make things challenging’
Argentina also trained on Monday, and Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said his team expects a tough game against Croatia.
Argentina will also be without two players because of suspension: left-back Marcos Acuña and right-back Gonzalo Montiel. Acuña is the bigger miss, having impressed since coming into the team after the stunning loss to Saudi Arabia in the group stage, and he is likely to be replaced by Tagliafico.
“We expect a tough match and it is against a really good team. They are a proper team and they play as a team,” Scaloni told reporters in a pre-match conference in Doha on Monday.
“They are going to make things challenging for us,” Scaloni said.
“They have a specific playing style. I don’t think they are going to change that. It is neither defensive nor attacking,” he said.
“We have our system and our style. We won’t change our style.”
Dalic, who said Croatia was free from injuries ahead of the game, also said he hoped the match against the Argentinians would not be as emotionally charged or ill-tempered as their quarterfinal qualification match against the Netherlands.
Eighteen yellow cards and one red car were handed out to Dutch and Argentinian players in a performance marred by disciplinary violations from both sides throughout.
Croatia have also previously been on the receiving end of Argentinian temper.
Following Croatia’s group stage win at the 2018 World Cup, then-Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli refused to shake Dalic’s hand.
Dalic said he holds no grudges.
“I understand the actors involved and the expectations were high back then [in 2018]. It happens and we shall not hold any grudges,” Dalic said.
“I don’t get angry at anyone in an emotional state of mind. Argentina against Netherlands was also quite feisty and difficult with many non-football-related behaviours. I really hope this will not be the case tomorrow,” he said.
“Tomorrow’s match is a great match for Argentina as well as us. The stakes are high for both and a spot in the final is at stake,” he said.
Dalic’s advice to his players and their few fans in Qatar was to enjoy the game.
“I always say to our fans and players to enjoy the football,” he said.
“Each of us has to enjoy the work, the profession we are doing. Only if players are happy can they be what they are.”