Davor Suker says Croatia go about their business quietly, in apparent contrast to members of the English press who have been accused of overconfidence going into the teams’ World Cup semi-final, which Croatia won in extra time.
Former international striker Suker was part of the Croatian team that reached the semi-finals in France in 1998, a tournament at which he claimed the Golden Boot for top scorer.
He is now head of the Croatian football federation, and spoke to RT about the secrets behind the small Balkan nation’s remarkable run to the World Cup final this time round in Russia.
He indicated that the team takes a more modest approach to the game than members of the press from beaten semi-finalists England.
“And for the World Cup, I’d like to say very honestly, in France [in 1998], we don’t make noise, [we moved] slowly…,” said Suker.
“Who cares now if you say, look at England, what [they] did before the game, [saying they] will win, why do you need to say that? Let’s go, play 11 against 11, respect…”
Members of the Croatian team had also picked up on what they felt was arrogance by English journalists and pundits ahead of Wednesday’s semi-final, especially after Croatia went into that game on the back of two grueling knockout stage wins on penalties.
Captain Luka Modric said that players had taken exception to what was perceived as arrogance when members of the English press had cited their lengthy playing time as a reason why England would prevail.
“People were talking … English journalists, pundits from television,” the Real Madrid midfielder told ITV after the game.
“They underestimated Croatia tonight and that was a huge mistake. All these words from them we take, we were reading and we were saying: ‘OK, today we will see who will be tired.’ They should be more humble and respect their opponents more.
“We showed again that we were not tired – we dominated the game mentally and physically. We should have killed the game even before extra time.
“This is an amazing achievement for us – it’s a dream come true after such a long time. We are in the final and that is the biggest success in Croatia history. We have to be proud.”
However, members of the English press have hit back at the accusations of arrogance, claiming that they had shown utmost respect towards Modric and Croatia and that the claims are unfounded.
Except everything I heard/read said Modric was the best player in either side and this could well be his night/tournament https://t.co/EDsrr4LoIt— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceTel) July 11, 2018
Complete nonsense this from Luka Modric. Never heard one single English journalist or pundit of my acquaintance show Croatia anything other than respect - and pretty much every one mentioned what a class act he is. https://t.co/m9e7l7K9hE— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) July 11, 2018
There were also reports that Croatian players had taken the increasing chants and references to "football's coming home" from England fans and media as arrogance - something which was again dimissed by the media.
Read interviews/spoke with Croat players. They saw #ComingHome signing as disrespectful mostly because it CONFIRMED what they thought of the English. U might say it was all a joke (it felt less of one after #COL), I’m telling you how it was perceived. Maybe something to consider— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) July 14, 2018
What was in their minds in the first half when not playing well?Did the Croatian manager switch his phone on at half time and show them some memes of coming home? It’s a complete nonsense to think that a footballer is really thinking about uncontrollable elements during a game .— Gary Neville (@GNev2) July 14, 2018
In the event, Croatia ran out 2-1 winners at Luzhniki Stadium, after goals by Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic – the second of which came in extra time – cancelled out an early opener from Kieran Trippier for England.
That booked the team’s spot in the World Cup final for the first time, and meant they went one better than the 1998 generation, who fell at the semi-final stage to France.
On Sunday Croatia will meet a heavily-fancied French team, but Suker says Russia 2018 “will have nice World Cup finalists.”
“France, I think one of the best teams, Croatia beat Argentina [3-0 in the group stage], France beat Argentina [4-3 in the last 16], we make history.”
He dismissed notions of the game being purely about revenge for the defeat in 1998.
“In football, this [revenge] is a nice word, but I don’t like it, we just have a chance to play 90 minutes… it’s a football game, who will be well prepared… physically France is very well prepared, and during the World Cup I saw in the eyes of Modric and the [Croatia] players they are well prepared…”
He also paid particular tribute to Modric, whom RT guest host Peter Schmeichel said “for me is now the best player in the tournament.”
“He’s a leader, he’s the guy who has the nice touch with all the players… they follow [him], I’m so glad for him and for everyone,” Suker said.
France and Croatia kick off the World Cup final at 6pm local time on Sunday at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.