Abu Dhabi: The world watched in awe at the way Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic went about his business to script a 2-1 comeback win over England in the World Cup semi-finals and set up a clash with France on Sunday for football’s most prestigious trophy.
But, in the sandy terrain of the UAE, there wouldn’t have been much doubt among Dalic’s fans regarding the Croat’s capability of pulling off such an feat.
Dalic, who was at the helm of Arabian Gulf League side Ain for nearly three years and led them to the 2014 President’s Cup, 2014-15 AGL title and the 2015 Arabian Gulf Super Cup, has always had that element of surprise up his sleeves in crunch situations.
He has always shown the knack of getting the best from the players when they had their backs to the walls.
Having said that, this was not a club mission and Dalic was in uncharted territory during Croatia’s World Cup campaign trying to match the guile and outsmart his world-class contemporaries.
The 51-year-old has brilliantly lived up to the challenge so far. He has enhanced his reputation as an excellent tactician and has overseen his team as they have lit up the tournament.
Who would have thought a nation with a population is 4.29 million with almost one-sixth of it concentrated in its largest city and capital, Zagreb will come this far under the guidance the globally little-known Dalic.
Dalic has turned his pack of quality youngsters and experienced heads into a match-winning unit, ready to face any adversities — more importantly, with a huge desire and will to excel.
The date with England had come following the energy sapping extra time and penalties in their two previous matches against Denmark and Russia.
Fatigue would play a huge role in the outcome of the contest is what most pundits had predicted. Some even completely writing off the Croats with comments like the team is ‘tired and walking dead’.
To an extent, it would have been true but Dalic played a masterstroke and tried to make the optimum use of the time on hand. Despite down by a goal through Kieran Trippier’s 20-yard free-kick after only five minutes, he and his team didn’t push the panic button.
Conserving energy was the key and Dalic made sure that his side meticulously picked their moment and didn’t run out of steam.
They went all out only in the second half in search of the equaliser and then again following the switch in the extra time after Ivan Perisic kept them in the game drawing level in the 68th minute.
In short, a total of 60 minutes is what Croatia targeted to dictate and enforce their brand of football on England — going full throttle.
Then Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic scored the winning goal in the 109th minute — reacting quicker than John Stones in the area to beat Jordan Pickford.
Croatia’s mainstay Luka Modric also took up the role exactly the way Dalic wanted him to play.
The Real Madrid star, who was promoted into more of an attacking role to add variety up front once Dalic took over, marshalling the midfield did a commendable job with Ivan Rakitic to slow down proceedings and put England off track.
Dalic had earlier relived that the Croatian players has been underrated for a long time because of their poor results but now he has ensured that they are on the cusp of going down as the Golden Generation.
With the trophy in sight and history beckoning, Dalic’s measured approach to work, fine detailing of plans and one last heroic effort from the players will be what fans in UAE and back home will looking forward come Sunday against France.