- Zlatko Dalic took the long road to becoming Croatia coach
- The 51-year-old has been in charge for less than a year
- The Balkan side have surpassed their achievements at France 1998
By Vjekoslav Paun with Croatia
The luxury of having a few minutes of peace in his hotel lobby is a luxury that Zlatko Dalic has not been afforded of late, with the Croatia coach in constant demand for autographs and selfies from Vatreni supporters.
Nonetheless, the former defensive midfielder is enjoying his time being in charge of the Balkan side, as they prepare for their biggest ever challenge - Sunday’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Final against France at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. It's a match that all coaches fantasise being a part of.
"We are still living our dreams, we are so close," he said calmly from the team’s hotel in the centre of Moscow.
Having never earned the opportunity to appear for Croatia as a player, Dalic did not hesitate in taking the reins of his country’s senior squad last October when they were in danger of missing out on a place at Russia 2018.
"Through my life and career, I went the hard way. I did not want to be just an average coach in Croatia. I had to start from the lowest club,” he said. “Within a year in Asia, I became the best coach, and for three years, I was coach of Al Ain [in the United Arab Emirates], who are like Real [Madrid] in Europe. That was a tremendous experience for me. I coached two of the biggest clubs in Asia, so when Croatia's call arrived, I did not hesitate."
A few months on, Dalic’s efforts have surpassed those of his mentor, Miroslav Blazevic, who led Croatia to a third-place finish in the country’s World Cup debut back in 1998.
"With this great result [of reaching the Final], we have definitely entered history as one of the smallest countries ever in the World Cup finals,” Dalic said. “When we look at the conditions in which we work, we are a world wonder and phenomenon. We do not have the appropriate environment with big teams [in Croatia], but we have great players, who have brought us such joy. This is a planetary success.”
Dalic compared Croatia’s run in Russia to that of a fellow Mediterranean country that surprised the football world at UEFA EURO 2004.
"I see the connection between Croatia now and Greece in 2004, although they are two different styles of football,” he said. “No one believed that they could be the [European] champions, but they were compact and had great teamwork."
As the smallest nation to reach a World Cup Final since Uruguay back in 1950, Dalic believes Croatia have what it takes to win the Trophy on Sunday evening.
"There are two top teams in the World Cup Final,” he said. “This will be our biggest game and our toughest opponent, for sure. France are very dangerous on the counter-attack. We had a tough journey to the Final, but there are no excuses, we are ready for the last game of the tournament."