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Tuesday 25 September 2018

Dalic's big praise for battle weary Croat squad

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic and Luka Modric celebrate victory after the England match. Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic and Luka Modric celebrate victory after the England match. Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

It was no surprise that Croatia cavorted on the pitch in celebration with fans and family long after beating England in the semi-finals of the World Cup on Wednesday night, but a wiser head might have ushered them quietly to ice bath and bed.

It was never going to happen, of course, as the ecstasy of taking a tiny nation to the final of the World Cup for the first time needed to be worked through with the people that provided the players with support and inspiration.

The fact remains, though, that on Sunday they will play the biggest match of their lives against a France side bursting with youth and vigour that has had a day more rest and played the equivalent of a match fewer over the knockout rounds.

While going to 30 minutes of extra time in all three of their sudden death matches - not to mention emotional energy-sapping penalty shootouts in two - has proved beyond doubt Croatia's resilience, it has taken its toll.

"Some players played with minor injuries with which they would not have played some other games. Two players played with half a leg, but it didn't show," coach Zlatko Dalic said.

"Nobody wanted to give in when I was preparing the first eleven, nobody wanted to say I was not ready in extra time, no one wanted to be subbed and this shows character and what makes me proud. Nobody gave up."

Mario Mandzukic typified their efforts, running himself into the ground in the lone striker role but taking his chance to score the winner clinically when it presented itself nearly 20 minutes into extra time.

The Juventus striker finally limped off utterly exhausted six minutes from time but promised unstinting effort on Sunday to bring the World Cup back to the nation of some four million people.

"We were like lions out there and we will be the same in the final," Mandzukic said.

That the nation will be backing them to gain revenge for the World Cup semi-final loss to France in 1998 is without question.

"For Croatian football and Croatia as a country, this is history being written. I don't know of a smaller country in a World Cup final," Dalic added.

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