Zlatko Dalic is formal: “We are a bit like the suburbs of a big city in Brazil. » The Croatia coach does not compare his team to that of a district of Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, he just did his calculations. “Brazil has two hundred million people, we only have four million. » The two teams face off on Friday, December 9 at 4 p.m., for a place in the last four of the World Cup in Qatar.
In Europe alone, thirty nations are more populated than Croatia. And yet, the Balkan country has established itself, since its independence in 1991, as a stronghold of world football. For Zlatko Dalic, fighting spirit is rooted in the country’s DNA. “Never underestimate Croatia. We are a small country, but we never give up, affirmed the coach after the qualification of his team for the quarter-finals, against Japan (1-1, 3-1 on penalties). This team reflects the soul of the Croatian people. We are diligent, hardworking, and we fight for what we want. And history keeps repeating itself. »
Unhappy finalists of the last World Cup – defeat against France 4-2 -, the teammates of the Ballon d’Or 2018, Luka Modric, took over from their predecessors of the 1998 World Cup (eliminated in the semi-finals by France , and third in the tournament). “They were our idols, we wanted to try to do as well as them, and if possible even better”told, before the start of the competitionthe Croatian captain on Zvonimir Boban, Davor Suker and the other players of the 1998 epic.
To understand how such a small country manages to mold so many top players, you have to look back in history. “Football has occupied a special place in the construction of an independent Croatia”explains Loïc Trégourès, author of Football in Yugoslavia chaos (Non Lieu, 2019) and sports specialist in the Balkans. Appreciated and used by President Franjo Tudjman, the round ball was an object of affirmation when the country declared itself independent from the former Yugoslavia. “From Euro 1996, the players felt the need to prove that they existed and that their country was legitimate to exist”, continues the researcher.
Even today, Luka Modric, international star of his sport and Real Madrid player, repeats that “Playing for Croatia is sacred”. At 37, he still rejects the rumors that push him towards an international retirement at the end of the World Cup.
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Source: Le Monde