Football

Croatia players hail new coach Dalic

Croatia fired on all cylinders when they needed to most under new coach Zlatko Dalic as a 4-1 home rout of Greece yesterday morning (Singapore time) vindicated his hasty appointment after their World Cup qualifying campaign had threatened to collapse.

The result of the first leg left Greece with an almost impossible task to overhaul the deficit in Monday morning's return leg, after Dalic's adventurous formation tore them apart at Maksimir stadium.

The 51-year-old Bosnian-born Dalic stepped in for the unpopular and uncharismatic Ante Cacic after the Croatians slipped from first to third in their group.

His first game in charge saw them beat Ukraine 2-0 to qualify for the play-offs.

Yesterday morning, his revamped side, freed from Cacic's cagey tactics, produced what Croatian players, pundits and fans billed as one of their best performances in the last few years.

"What has changed? The coach," goalkeeper Danijel Subasic said.

"He talked to us more than his predecessor and brought the best out of us. This is the real Croatia and if we repeat this performance in the second leg, we're off to Russia."

Left back Ivan Strinic, who featured only in the opening 1-1 home draw with Turkey, delivered a classy performance as did right back Sime Vrsaljko and both racked up assists as Croatia raided the flanks almost at will.

With Ivan Perisic, captain Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic at their usual high level, stand-in striker Nikola Kalinic, who replaced injured battering ram Mario Mandzukic, also stood out with a goal after winning a penalty converted by Modric.

Kalinic's strike partner Andrej Kramaric, constantly overlooked by Cacic, continued his new lease of life with another goal after netting a brace against Ukraine.

The 26-year old Kramaric acknowledged the Croatians need to keep their feet firmly on the ground.

"We have probably done enough as I doubt they can put four or five past us in the return leg, but it's not over yet and we need to score the away goal to make sure," he said.

Dalic himself also warned his players against complacency.

He told television channel HRT: "It was a great match ... But this is only the first half, we should not relax. Nothing is over.

"These are excellent players who don't need much... A bit of support, trust." - WIRE SERVICES

World Cup