Croatia can be hugely proud of eliminating tournament favourites Brazil on penalties to reach the World Cup last four but they are now in a state of limbo, coach Zlatko Dalic said on Saturday.
Croatia, runners-up in 2018, stunned Brazil by coming back with a late equaliser in the second half of extra time on Friday before knocking them out in the penalty shootout after two Brazilians failed to convert their spot kicks.
“When you kick out of the World Cup a team like Brazil which surely were the biggest favourites, then you must be both happy and proud,” Dalic told reporters after receiving applause from Croatian media representatives when he entered the news conference room.
“I am tired but happily tired and... one should enjoy this moment, but not too much as today we already have to start to prepare for Argentina.”
Croatia, with a population of just over 3.5 million, have been punching above their weight on the international stage for years but Friday’s result was among the biggest upsets in the tournament given Brazil’s recent form and Dalic’s ageing squad that had also needed penalties to beat Japan in the last 16.
“At this moment, we are not anywhere, neither here nor there,” Dalic said. “If we crashed out of the group stage, we would have gotten over it, if we were eliminated in the quarter-finals we would have gotten over it too.
“But we have come to this stage and now what? Neither here nor there. That is why we have to do all we can to achieve something more because it would be a great shame if after all these worries, efforts and the sacrifices we have made we don’t go a step further.”
Croatia will now face Argentina, who also needed penalties in a bad-tempered game to overcome the Netherlands after leading 2-0 and the Dutch scoring twice late in the game to force extra time and then a shootout.
The Croats had also required two penalty shootouts and an extra-time win to reach the final in 2018 before losing to France, so fatigue at a tournament is not new to them.
“Fatigue will not be an issue at all, and we will not mention it at all,” Dalic said. “They (Argentina) are also very motivated, they are awaiting the title and they are happy because Brazil fell out and they celebrate it.”
The coach had heaped praise on Brazil prior to their quarter-final, calling them ‘terrifying’ and he was equally respectful of their semi-final opponents with Lionel Messi-led Argentina eyeing their first world title since 1986.
Messi has scored four goals so far as he looks for his first World Cup trophy in his fifth attempt.
“I think that a very, very tough job is awaiting us now,” Dalic said. “They will have huge support now in the semi-finals as (Lionel) Messi is still their main player and someone they can rely on, he plays splendidly.
“I really cannot yet review Argentina just yet. All will depend on us. If we do not play right, if we are not serious and motivated, it will be in vain even if they perform poorly. I think at this time they are excellent as they reached semi-finals.”
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