Make no mistake, Croatia were far from their best last night as they struggled to break down a stubborn Denmark defence. Indeed, the Vatreni could have had no complaints had they been eliminated after turning in such a poor performance in Nizhny Novgorod. As it turned out, Zlatko Dalić’s side prevailed by three goals to two after a tense and nerve-wracking penalty shootout which saw veteran Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subašić emerge as a national hero.
Naturally, despite a lacklustre performance in which the likes of Ivan Perišić and Ante Rebić failed to shine, there is now a great deal of optimism within the camp that Croatia can go all the way, or at least emulate the heroic team that reached the semi-final stage in France 1998. If anything, Dalić seemed enthused by the fact his players earned a result the hard way: “We have come so far but we don’t intend to stop here. You have to earn your luck and the lads earned theirs. Without luck, you cannot do anything in life.”
Of course, the former Al-Ain coach was full of praise for Luka Modrić, who showed true mental fortitude to score a penalty in the shootout having missed one in the dying moments of normal time: “He took the responsibility as a true captain. He scored and it speaks volumes about Luka. He said he wanted to take one in the penalty shootout. Can you imagine what would have happened had he not scored? This shows the qualities of a great player and Luka is a great player.”
However, last night was all about Danijel Subašić, a goalkeeper who has often gone under the radar despite the fact he has been rock solid for one of Ligue 1’s biggest clubs for several years. Dalić said: “He was our hero tonight. He saved three penalties in the shootout – you don’t see that every day. He pulled us out when we needed it most.” That he did. It was one mightily impressive display from the 33-year-old Zadar native, which will undoubtedly be looked back upon as a pivotal moment in the tournament should Croatia go all the way and put their country firmly back on the footballing map.
There is a lot of football still to be played before the final takes place in Moscow on Sunday 15th. In fact, Croatia must first pit their wits against host nation Russia on Saturday night in Sochi. The Russians are themselves filled with hope and enthusiasm, having eliminated Spain via penalty kicks yesterday afternoon. Dalić has already made it perfectly clear that he expects a very difficult test and that his players must be just as resilient as they were against the Danes:
“This is going to be a huge match. We cannot relax, we must be even stronger and more stable because we are going to play a very difficult opponent, a great opponent. We will not let out guard down, there can be no arrogance going forward. We are happy with what we have achieved, but we know we have to do more.”
Russia themselves are a bit of a mystery at the moment as well, as no one quite knows which version will turn up from one game to the next. Should they play with the same steel and determination as they did against the Spaniards, then Croatia will be in for a very difficult evening. However, if they are as tactically disorganised as they were in their final group match against Uruguay, then the Croatians should have enough quality to exploit the gaps in their defence and win the match with relative ease. Only time will tell on that one.
“The France 1998 generation were our idols. They showed us the way we should go, but now we have to forget them. This must not be pressure. We have to enjoy this World Cup. I would like to see kids talk about us in 20 years.” Those were the words of midfielder Ivan Rakitić in the aftermath of last night’s game, just moments after sending his country into the quarter-finals with as high pressure a penalty as he is ever likely to take. Croatia have the self-belief which tells them that they can go all the way – it is impossible to overstate how important that is to their chances of doing so.
Do you have what it takes to challenge the best Fantasy Football Managers? If you’re up to challenging the best then play www.fantasy-worldcup.com now!