ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic plans to stay at the helm of the national soccer team in a bid to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, despite coming under fire after a dramatic 5-3 loss to Spain in the Euro 2020 round of 16 on Monday.
The Balkan nation's football pundits and media criticised Dalic for patchy performances and what they saw as ill-judged tinkering with the squad throughout the campaign, which the 2018 World Cup runners-up exited earlier than they had hoped.
But a defiant Dalic said Croatia bowed out with their heads held high after fighting back from a 3-1 deficit against Spain only to run out of steam in extra time when they conceded a pair of quickfire goals.
"I've made mistakes and I accept responsibility because at the end of the day I called the shots," Dalic told a news conference in Croatia's Adriatic base camp of Rovinj on Tuesday.
"With hindsight I would have done some things differently. But the only thing on my mind now is qualifying for next year's World Cup in Qatar, and a big game against Russia on September 1 is just around the corner.
"We have nothing to be ashamed of. We made some simple mistakes which you can’t afford against the likes of Spain because they will punish you. But it's part of growing up even though up it cost us a quarter-final berth."
Croatia took the lead against Spain thanks to a bizarre own goal and then conceded a sloppy equaliser when Pablo Sarabia struck for the Spaniards while Ante Rebic was changing boots behind the touchline.
Ferran Torres netted Spain's third after a quickly taken free kick, with Croatia left back Josko Gvardiol taking his eye off proceedings as he was refreshing himself with some water.
Dalic refused to blame Rebic or Gvardiol for lapses in concentration and said Croatia had achieved their primary objective of reaching the knockout stage of the competition.
"We didn't squeeze through, we finished as runners-up in our group. We are better than making a last-16 exit, but this time round we didn't deserve more. Still, I think this team has a bright future.
"I am sad and proud at the same time. Sad for the players who left it all out there and for the fans who invested time and money to support us, but proud because we could not have done more against one of world's top teams."
Dalic remained cautious about whether 35-year old captain Luka Modric and several other senior players will carry on.
"We haven't had a chance to have a proper talk yet," he said. "We need to sit down with cool heads very soon and figure out what the best course of action is."
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Hugh Lawson)