Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic believes his side were better “in all segments of the game” as they won their World Cup semi-final against England.
Gareth Southgate’s men opened the scoring at the Luzhniki Stadium, but it is the Vatreni that will return to take on France in Sunday’s showpiece finale.
Ivan Perisic drew Croatia level and Mario Mandzukic secured a 2-1 extra-time win to propel the country into their first World Cup final.
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.
“We let the centre-halves play. (Luka) Modric and (Ivan) Rakitic pressed their backline and we had the ball possession.
“During half-time, I told the players ‘calmly pass the ball, do not lose your heads’.
“We showed that we were the better team in all segments of the game.
“I think this was our best game. 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.”
Dalic thanked Croatia’s fans and players for their efforts in securing this historic win, setting up Sunday’s encounter with France – the team that knocked them out of their previous World Cup semi-final in 1998.
“There is no weakness in a team which is in the final,” Dalic said of France. “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.”
Gareth Southgate was heartbroken but proud after England’s extraordinary summer ended just short of the World Cup final.
The country came to a standstill during Wednesday evening’s semi-final as the Three Lions lined-up against Croatia looking to keep the dream of bringing football home alive.
Kieran Trippier’s early free-kick put England on course for their first final since 1966, but Southgate’s men will not be able to replicate Sir Alf Ramsey’s heroes after Croatia staged a fightback to instead face France this weekend.
Ivan Perisic levelled and Mario Mandzukic secured a 2-1 win in extra-time, propelling the country to a first World Cup final as England’s manager wondered what could have been – 22 years on from his semi-final heartache at Euro 96.
“I think that’s maybe something for a couple of days’ time because at the moment we all feel the pain of the defeat,” Southgate said when asked how the loss leaves England.
“Did we expect to be in this position? I don’t think realistically any of us did.
“But when you’ve got to this point and we’ve played in the way we have, and as well as we did in the first half, then you want to take those opportunities in life.
“So, the dressing room and all of the staff is (in) a very difficult place at the moment.
“Having said that, what I will say is that I am remarkably proud of the group of players that have really advanced.
“I think the reaction of the supporters to them at the end compared to two years ago tells them that, first and foremost, experiences with England can be positive, that the country are very proud of what they’ve done and the way that they’ve played.
“And, yeah, there will in time be a lot of positives to take.
“It’s of course very hard to put that into context and a bit too soon, really, because I think you have to suffer the result a little bit.
“It’s too easy sometimes to move on quickly.
“But, certainly, I’m hugely proud of what they’ve done.
“I couldn’t have asked them to give any more for me or for the country.
“They have broken through a number of barriers over the last few weeks.”
England secured their biggest major tournament win in Russia, as well as winning their first World Cup penalty shootout and first knockout match since 2006 en route to just their third ever semi-final in this competition.
But the defeat to the smallest nation to reach a World Cup final since Uruguay in 1950 is a body blow that leaves the Three Lions reeling ahead of an unwanted third-placed play-off against Belgium on Saturday.
“It’s impossible to say anything to them to make them feel better at this moment of time,” Southgate said.
“I don’t think when people look at the experience and last 18 months, that people expected us to be in a semi-final of the World Cup.
“But, once we were here we really believed we could win the game.
“For us, it was an opportunity to do something which only one team in our nation’s history has ever done.
“We’re still one of only three teams ever to get to a semi-final, and I think for all of the players and staff they have got to be proud of that.
“I don’t think any of them could have given any more.”
England’s grand World Cup adventure came to an end on Wednesday as they lost to Croatia 2-1 in the semi-final after extra-time.
The result meant Gareth Southgate fell just short of becoming the second England manager to lead his side to a World Cup final after Sir Alf Ramsay’s famous winners of 1966.
But,vhe can hold his head high as he prepares his side for the third-place clash against Belgium on Saturday.
Here’s a closer look at England’s semi-final performance.
Goals – 1
Shots – 11
Shots on target – 2
Possession – 45%
Pass Accuracy – 76%
England’s manager didn’t spring any surprises, naming an unchanged side and sticking to his usual 3-4-3 that has served him so well.
His substitutions were fairly formulaic: Marcus Rashford for a tiring Raheem Sterling, like-for-like changes at left-back and midfield – Danny Rose for Ashley Young and Eric Dier for Jordan Henderson – and switching to a 4-3-3 and taking off defender Kyle Walker to bring on striker Jamie Vardy when England were chasing a goal.
Ultimately, however, it was all in vain.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
With diminutive midfielders and occasionally shaky defenders, Croatia’s rearguard seem like a unit that could be vulnerable to balls over the top, especially with the high line they can play. England continually exploited that, with the pace of Sterling and Jesse Lingard coupled with the strength of Harry Kane exposing Croatia’s defence. It also allowed England to negate Croatia’s pressing game.
However, although the tactic exposed a seeming weakness in Croatia’s game, ultimately it didn’t pay off.
Southgate had said England could achieve something special, but on the day, they fell short, struggling to impose themselves and own the moment.
What will bother the England manager is how his side didn’t take advantage of their first-half dominance on Wednesday, yet again failing to create enough chances. Apart from their goal they had only one shot on target, and they ceded control after half-time despite having bossed the game before that.
They faded even as a fatigued Croatia rose to the occasion.
RATING – 6/10