NIZHNIY NOVGOROD, Russia (AFP) – Zlatko Dalic said he wanted Croatia’s World Cup adventure to continue past the quarter-finals after his team secured a last eight spot with a dramatic penalty shootout victory over Denmark.
The Croats won 3-2 on penalties after a tense 1-1 draw, to set up a clash with hosts Russia on Saturday.
But Dalic said his team, who have been tipped for World Cup glory, want to go much further.
“We have come so far but we don’t intend to stop here,” Dalic told reporters after the victory.
Sunday’s win over Denmark was secured in the same stadium, Nizhny Novgorod, where the Croats thumped Argentina 3-0 in the group stage.
But this was a far more difficult game for Croatia, who came from behind after conceding a goal in the second minute and being on the backfoot for most of the second half.
Dalic said his team “played for the result”, and he was unconcerned about the performance.
Victory came after three penalty saves from keeper Danijel Subasic in the shootout, the first keeper to do that since Portugal’s Ricardo against England in 2006.
“You have to earn your luck and the lads earned theirs,” he added. “Without luck you cannot do anything in life.”
Dalic said Subasic won them the game but he was also full of praise for Luka Modric after the Croatian skipper missed a 116th minute extra time penalty but volunteered to take another penalty in the shootout.
“He said it himself, ‘I am going to take a penalty in the shootout,’.
“Can you imagine what would have happened if he had not scored, but he’s a great player.”
Denmark coach Age Hareide said he thought his team were unlucky not to win.
“I think we had a good chance against Croatia, I think we played a good match,” he said.
Hareide added that he had set up his team to deny Modric and his midfield partner Ivan Rakitic – who struck the winning penalty in the shootout – space as he described the Croats as the best counter-attacking team in Europe.
Danish Keeper Kasper Schmeichel won the man of the match award for his penalty saves, two more followed in the shootout, but said the result was a “huge disappointment”.
“I don’t think we had much luck, I don’t think the referee liked us today, it’s very difficult to accept, it’s difficult to put into words,” he said.
Thousands of Croatians celebrated their team’s dramatic win. “Croatia in a crazy drama broke Denmark with penalties and progressed to the quarter-finals, Subasic hero of the match!” said the Tportal website.
“Subasic, who saved three penalties, was a hero, while Ivan Rakitic scored the decisive penalty,” said the Vecernji List daily paper.
Fans watched the match live on giant screens throughout the country and celebrated the 3-2 win on penalties.
“Subasic saved us! He was an absolute hero of this tough match!” Fran Peric, 20, who watched the match in Zagreb, told AFP.
Fans, many of whom were dressed in Croatia’s red-and-white shirts, were singing patriotic songs, lighting flares and waving Croatian flags.
“Subasic defends three penalties and leads ‘Fiery Ones’,” said the Sportske Novosti paper.
Croatia can match the achievements of the 1998 team, who reached the semi-finals, if they beat Russia in Sochi on Saturday.