Lovren: We can go far if we're brave
- Croatia qualified for the last 16 with a 100 per cent record
- Dejan Lovren has been a key player for the Group D winners
- Lovren: “We can be this World Cup’s dark horses”
By Vjekoslav Paun with Croatia
With three wins from three, Croatia attained near-perfection in the Russia 2018 group phase.
No-one at this competition has performed as consistently as Zlatko Dalic’s in-form side, who preserved their unblemished record with a 2-1 win over debutants Iceland in Rostov on Tuesday. And while Croatia have had plenty of standout players so far, one of the most impressive has been their commanding and composed centre-half, Dejan Lovren.
“Ever since the beginning of the tournament, the defence has functioned very well,” said a proud Lovren. “We’ve been enjoying our football. And now we’ve secured our place in the last 16, which was always our goal, I’m sure we’ll play with even more freedom.”
It is now two decades since a golden generation of Croatians, led by tournament top scorer Davor Suker, finished third at France 1998. Now, with the current crop of players – led by stellar names such as Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic – seemingly hitting their peak, high expectations are inevitable. Lovren feels that such excitement is justified.
“I’ve been saying for 20 years that Croatia can do something big at the World Cup, but I feel that there is a real opportunity this time,” said Lovren. “The atmosphere in the team is great and it can’t be compared to the way it was four years ago in Brazil. It’s so different, it’s as if it was two different teams.
“To give you an example, we all had great fun when we had a haircut at the camp. Poor Mateo Kovacic was very nervous while the lady was shaving his hair. We all had a laugh and enjoyed this together. And in the end, Mateo got a hairstyle he might not have wanted!”
Lovren says that the atmosphere has been helped greatly by Dalic’s approach to the job. The Croatia coach told FIFA.com ahead of the tournament that that he would be operating in a cooperative style, saying: “I look to have a good relationship with my players. That’s not always recommended, but it’s my style – I want to give full support to the players and to communicate with them a lot.”
That philosophy, according to Lovren, has paid dividends. “The coach has created a special atmosphere,” said the Liverpool star. “He knows exactly how to interact with players and does it in a unique way.”
With all that is going right for them, the question is inevitable: just how high can Croatia set their sights at Russia 2018? “If we are brave, we can go far,” Lovren said. “Sometimes a bit of luck is needed. But we can be the dark horses of this World Cup”.
The centre-half has similarly lofty ambitions for himself, and insists the criticism he has occasionally received for his Liverpool performances have only fortified his resolve.
“It has strengthened me,” he said. “When some people insult me, I relish it – because I want to prove that I am one of the best defenders in the world.”
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