Zlatko Dalic gamble pays off for Croatia FIFA World Cup hopes

Croatia took a gamble when they appointed Zlatko Dalic as national coach last October but he repaid them handsomely by guiding them to the World Cup finals.

Published: 30th May 2018 12:07 PM  |   Last Updated: 30th May 2018 12:07 PM   |  A+A-

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic | AP


ZAGREB: Croatia took a gamble when they appointed Zlatko Dalic as national coach last October but he repaid them handsomely by guiding them to the World Cup finals.

Croatia's football federation chief Davor Suker described the roll of the dice that brought Dalic to Zagreb as "shock therapy" for a team looking unlikely to qualify for Russia after sacking their previous coach Ante Cacic.

Only two days later, Croatia won their final qualifier against Ukraine 2-0 to reach the play-offs in which they eventually eliminated Greece to book their World Cup ticket.

Dalic, 51, a former midfielder, appears to have boosted the players' sagging morale and won back the fans' trust in record time.

"I'm not anyone's man," Dalic has stressed to the Croatian media, saying his only reference was his "work, work and nothing but work."

But with only five matches at the helm -- three victories, one draw and one defeat -- Dalic remains something of a coaching unknown.

The challenge in Russia, where Croatia play in a tricky Group D against two-time former champions Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria, will be a major test of his coaching vision and will likely determine his long-term fate.

People who know Dalic say he was preparing for a coaching career already as a player, writing down in a notebook all training sessions from the age of 25.

Bosnian-born Dalic was a defensive midfielder for a string of top clubs in the former Yugoslavia, notably Velez Mostar, Hajduk Split and Varteks Varazdin, but never played for the national team.

He started coaching with Varteks Varazdin, and had spells at Rijeka and Dinamo Tirana, with whom he won the Albanian Supercup in 2008.

Dalic was also the assistant coach with the Croatia under-21 side from 2006 to 2011 and it is from then that he knows some of the current World Cup squad, players including Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic, Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren.

His major successes as a coach, however, have come outside of Europe -- he has coached top Saudi Arabian clubs Al-Faisaly and Al Hilal, winning the Kings Cup with the latter.

In 2014 he took over Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, where he was named coach of the year twice and led them to the 2016 Asian Champions League final.


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