SOC­CER

Dalic has worked his way to world stage by suc­cess achieved in Mid­dle East

Albany Times Union - - SPORTS -

▶ Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has taken a long, wind­ing road to the World Cup fi­nal.

In a coach­ing jour­ney across Croatia, Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates, Zlatko Dalic’s be­lief in his own abil­i­ties never dimmed.

“I used to say, ‘Give me a Barcelona or a Real Madrid and I will win ti­tles,’ ” Dalic re­called Thurs­day.

Such jobs no longer seem so far out of reach, es­pe­cially if Dalic col­lects the big­gest prize in soc­cer on Sunday. Croatia will win the World Cup for the first time if Dalic’s team can get the bet­ter of France and coach Di­dier Deschamps.

Re­ceiv­ing tro­phies is noth­ing new for Deschamps. As a player, the mid­fielder won ti­tles at clubs in France, Italy and Eng­land, as well as the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship with France. As a coach, he led France to the Euro 2016 fi­nal, los­ing to Por­tu­gal.

But the 51-year-old Dalic had a largely un­re­mark­able play­ing ca­reer be­fore switch­ing to coach­ing in his na­tive Croatia.

“In my life I have al­ways taken the harder path, had to fight for ev­ery­thing my­self,” Dalic said through a trans­la­tor at Luzh­niki Sta­dium. “I started at the bot­tom of the lad­der.”

The climb re­quired a leap into the un­known with a move to the Mid­dle East in 2010.

“I did not want to stay in Croatia and be a mid­dling coach and to live off hand­outs,” Dalic said. “I went abroad when­ever it was pos­si­ble to find a job.”

Dalic even­tu­ally landed at Al-hi­lal, where he won the Saudi Crown Prince Cup, and then reached the Asian Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal with Al-ain.

“We can­not sneeze at that. These are ma­jor com­pe­ti­tions,” Dalic said. “This brought me huge ex­pe­ri­ence ... and I built a name for my­self. This was a hard path but I be­lieved in my­self. When Croatia called, I never had any doubts.”

“The coach has cre­ated a spe­cial at­mos­phere,” said Croatia de­fender De­jan Lovren, who plays for Liver­pool. “He knows ex­actly how to in­ter­act with play­ers and does it in a unique way.”

Dan Mul­lan / Getty Im­ages

Zlatko Dalic, head coach of Croatia’s World Cup squad, shouts in­struc­tions to his team dur­ing the Croats’ semi­fi­nal match against Eng­land on Wed­nes­day. Af­ter the win, Dalic said, “Noth­ing was given to me on a plate, un­like some man­agers in Europe who can be given jobs to man­age a big club be­cause of their names as play­ers.”

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