Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said his team faces a “daunting task” to beat France in the World Cup final after their 2-1 victory over England in extra time.
Mario Mandzukic struck a dramatic 109th-minute goal at Luzhniki Stadium here after Ivan Perisic had cancelled out Kieran Trippier’s opener, reports Xinhua news agency.
It was the third consecutive match that Croatia have won after being forced into extra time. They prevailed in penalty shootouts following 120 minutes against Denmark in the round of 16 and Russia in the quarterfinals.
“This World Cup will be won by a team with character,” Dalic said. “We were 1-0 down three games in a row and came back to win each time. We have shown character. We are a nation of people who never give in, who are proud and have character.
“France are top-drawer. We are facing another daunting task but we are ready for it. I’m sure everybody will be looking forward to it. I have huge respect for France.”
They have had one more day to recover than us and we have had three games in a row that have gone to extra time. But we aren’t going to make excuses. We have to play as if it’s the first game of the tournament,” he added.
Sunday’s clash in Moscow will mark Croatia’s first appearance in the final of football’s flagship event and comes 20 years after they finished third, which until now had been their best result in the competition.
Dalic praised the attitude of his players against England, some of whom endured 120 minutes with “half a leg”.
“What the players did today, the strength, energies levels, was incredible,” he said.
“I wanted to make substitutions but nobody would come off. I have to tip my hat to our medical staff and doctors. Some players played with minor injuries today – ones that would rule them out of other games. Two played with half a leg. But nobody wanted to be subbed and they didn’t give in. That makes me proud,” he added.