NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (Reuters) - Croatia’s elated coach Zlatko Dalic lauded his captain Luka Modric who missed a penalty in extra time but then scored another in a shootout victory over Denmark on Sunday that put them in the World Cup quarter-finals.
“I am fascinated with his determination to shoot after he missed in extra time. He took the responsibility as a true captain, and it speaks volumes for Luka... Can you imagine if he had not scored? But he is a great player,” Dalic said.
With the score at 1-1 in the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Modric’s penalty five minutes from the end of extra time was saved by Kasper Schmeichel. However, the captain opted to return and converted in Croatia’s 3-2 shootout win.
“After Modric’s missed penalty, we all harked back to Vienna and that situation where we lost in 2008,” Dalic said, referring to an agonising shootout defeat to Turkey in their Euro 2008 quarter-final when Modric also missed.
“But you have to have faith. The dear Lord has repaid us. Without luck, you cannot do anything in life, I am overjoyed.”
Dalic, who rushed to celebrate with fans after Croatia won, also had warm words for his goalkeeper Danijel Subasic who saved three of Denmark’s penalties.
“I believe that somebody dropped him but he is fine,” he said of the chaotic celebrations at the end when team mates mobbed Subasic. “He was our hero tonight, he saved three penalties in a shootout. You don’t see that every day. He pulled us out when we needed him most. Great thanks to him.”
Ironically, both Croatian players who missed penalties against Denmark in the shootout — Josip Pivaric and Milan Badelj — had converted in a practice session the previous day.
“They scored spectacularly and yet tonight they missed. Every situation brings its drama but we were the ones to come out on top tonight,” Dalic said.
Croatia now face hosts Russia on Saturday in Sochi, but having also beaten Lionel Messi’s Argentina 3-0 in Nizhny Novgorod, Dalic jokingly mused about staying.
“I carry only beautiful memories from Nizhny Novgorod. Are there any other games played here?” he said.
On a serious note, Dalic recognised Croatia were under par on Sunday after their canter through the group stage, and he praised Denmark for disrupting their normal flowing style.
“We haven’t played a great game, not at the level of our previous games but we played for a result,” Dalic said, turning his focus immediately to Russia.
“I am going to say to my lads that we are playing the best team in the World Cup. We must not be arrogant... It will be a huge test for us... We have come so far, we do not intend to stop here, but I’m sure Russia think the same.”
Editing by Clare Fallon