Zlatko Dalic said Croatia will never surrender and had given their people “faith in a better tomorrow” after overcoming Japan in a penalty shootout to reach the World Cup quarter-finals.
The 2018 runners-up, and the smallest nation left in the tournament, prevailed 3-1 on penalties to deny Japan a first appearance in the last eight. Six of Croatia’s past seven games in the knockout stages of a major tournament have gone to extra time and their head coach insisted it was the mark of a resilient nation that should never be underestimated.
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Dalic, speaking before Brazil were confirmed as Croatia’s opponents in the quarter-final on Friday, said: “We will wait for Brazil or Korea and we shall not surrender. We will keep fighting to achieve our dream. If it’s Brazil then let’s break the game open, give our best and play our heart out.
“This generation is a resilient generation, it does not give up, and they reflect the spirit of the Croatian people who have been through so much pain. The Croatian national team brings so much pride and joy to our people. We give them faith in a better tomorrow.
“We are a new generation of Croatian footballers, 18 were not at the World Cup in Russia, and I told them: ‘This is your chance to make history.’ We did it and the new players have their chance. I always say, do not underestimate the Croatian people.”
The Japan head coach, Hajime Moriyasu, said his team could take pride in defeating Spain and Germany and proving they belong in elite company at the World Cup.
However, he conceded: “We cannot do everything at once. We cannot become superheroes in one go. We need to improve step by step but there’s no doubt that Japan is reaching a level where we can play on the world stage and individual players have also grown.”
Japan froze in the shootout with Takumi Minamino, Kaoru Mitoma and Maya Yoshida all having penalties saved by the Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
Moriyasu said: “I think it’s luck, but also training. It’s both. In terms of hitting the target there is still a gap between the top European teams and Japan.
“Croatia’s goalkeeper was wonderful today but the Japanese players also need to be better at penalties. This is something else we need to improve for the future.”