Photos: Ivo Čagalj / Igor Kralj / Igor Šoban

With two consecutive World Championship medals, the manager of the Croatia national football team is one of the most successful coaches in the world

Zlatko Dalić is a football coach whose philosophy is underpinned by authority based on knowledge and chemistry among team members. Silver in the 2018 World Championship in Russia and bronze in the 2022 World Championship in Qatar are among the greatest successes of the Croatian sport and, under his leadership, the ‘Fiery Ones’ have become one of the mightiest national teams in the world.

Can you compare the 2018 silver with the 2022 bronze?

Actually, a lot of it was different, but the most important thing hadn’t changed – a great atmosphere and an extraordinary result. Of course, the core players from 2018 were there, eight oldies who, led by Captain Modrić, did the greatest part of the work in Doha. But I’m proud that, compared to the Cup in Russia, we had 18 new players and that we, once again, achieved extraordinary success – this time practically with a completely new team. The team that had played in Russia had been in the making for ten years or so, with players selected and managed very well by head coaches Bilić, Štimac, Kovač and Čačić. The squad had then consisted of players who played in the best football clubs in the world. In Doha, compared to 2018, we didn’t have as many international stars; Mandžukić, Rakitić, Ćorluka and Subašić were missing. However, the young lads fit in perfectly and contributed greatly to winning the bronze medal. As a coach, I’m particularly fond of that success because it was achieved by the team that I had been creating with my staff for the previous four years, and it was a confirmation that we had done a good job.

With its two consecutive World Championship medals, the Croatian national team has joined the most successful countries in the world. What is the greatest strength of the ‘Fiery Ones’?

We have to be aware that these two instances of success are truly incredible, that we can hardly grasp how impossible it is that Croatia has finished the World Cup twice in a row ahead of Brazil, Germany, England, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Italy, the last of which didn’t even qualify for Russia or Qatar. In order to achieve such a success, you, first and foremost, need great players, and we do have them. Our lads play in the best of clubs, and this is primarily down to their talent and hard work, their families, which support them, and the clubs and coaches they have trained with. But there are around 10, maybe even 15, national teams in the world that have good enough players who can beat anyone in one game. What was our ‘added value’ is a special kind of unity, family atmosphere, within which we supported each other and made the team our priority, and this resulted in our having an especially strong character as a team. This message of unity is the most valuable thing that we have done as a team in the past years. There will be other teams that will consecutively win medals in world cups, but I’m not sure that there will be another team that will start five knock-out matches with letting in a goal, yet manage to turn the tide and win, as we did against Denmark, Russia, England, Japan and Brazil.

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