Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic said Thursday’s 3-0 dismantling of Argentina was more because of his side’s ability than their opponents’ ineptitude – but urged his players to not get carried away by the result.
The 1998 World Cup semi-finalists took apart the two-time winners at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium to record one of their most famous victories, capitalising on one of Argentina’s worst displays at the global finals to book a place in the last 16 with one match to spare.
Croatia sit top of Group D on six points from two games, while Argentina are staring at an ignominious exit. They have a solitary point thus far, and will most likely need to defeat Nigeria next Tuesday to stand any chance of advancing.
However, although the headlines focused Argentina, captain Lionel Messi and manager Jorge Sampaoli, Dalic said his players deserved all the credit for a fantastic performance.
“I have trusted my team from the first day,” the former Al Ain manager told the press conference afterwards. “I didn’t believe we would be through after the second game.
“Argentina were not confused – we were excellent. We have to be happy because we have done a lot of good things. We have emerged from the group after two games and we have beaten a strong Argentinian side with the best player in the world.
“But we have to pray to God that we don’t go over the top. We have to be calm, humble and dignified. We have to be disciplined and I want my 22nd player to be as hungry as my first player to achieve victory.”
Croatia outplayed a woefully disorganised Argentina in Nizhny Novgorod, repeatedly taking advantage of their rivals’ mistakes. Eight minutes into the second half, Ante Rebic seized upon a goalkeeping error from Willy Caballero to put Croatia ahead, before Luka Modric’s strike and Ivan Rakitic’s tap-in made sure of the win.
Dalic, who managed Al Ain for three years until early last year, said: “We knew that the back three of Argentina were a bit weaker and they would break down under pressing. The players did everything they were told. We had very good scouts analysing Argentina. We knew that they would play 3-4-3 and we adapted to that.
“Every coach has their own style of work. Over the last few days we haven’t looked at tactics because I wanted to relieve my players of the stress. I recently said this was going to be our best match because we played with fluidity and confidence. The whole of Croatia enjoyed this. I believe the whole world did.”