Lionel Messi: Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic reveals how he nullified Argentina and Barcelona star at World Cup

The 52-year-old insists that even the most talented individual footballer finds it hard to overcome a vastly superior team

Thursday 01 November 2018 14:55 GMT
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Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has lifted the lid on the game plan he used to nullify Argentina and Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi at last summer’s World Cup.

Messi delivered one of his most anonymous performances of the tournament as Argentina were shockingly beaten 3-0 by Croatia in the group stage, while Ante Rebic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic all found the net for Dalic’s side.

Croatia went on to reach the final of the competition for the first time in their history while Argentina crashed out in the round of 16 after a thrilling 4-3 defeat to eventual winners France.

“For me, Leo Messi is the best player in the world, and he is showing that week after week," Dalic told Goal. “[But] it's harder for Messi to play for Argentina than Barcelona, and we tried to exploit what we considered small weaknesses in the Argentinian team.

“The key was to be disciplined and to follow our tactical game plan fully, and our players did exactly that. We tried to stop the ball from reaching Messi and to contain him quickly in the areas where he likes to receive the ball.

Messi cut a disconsolate figure as Croatia ran out easy winners in Nizhny Novgorod

“As good as Messi is, football is a team sport and if one team performs better than the other it's hard for any individual to turn everything around. Croatia were just a better team than Argentina in that game.”

Dalic also used his view that the collective is more important than any individual in football to support Dejan Lovren, who attracted widespread ridicule for describing himself as one of the world’s best defenders in the wake of Croatia’s success in Russia.

“Dejan is a great player and I think he shows that at Liverpool as well,” Dalic added.

“It is not easy to play the centre-back position – you depend on the rest of the team. If the team plays well, and everybody is involved in the defensive play, it makes it easier for centre-backs. If they are left exposed in the big areas of the pitch, not even the best ones can stop the best forwards in the game.

“When Liverpool played well as a team, Dejan was also great – just like in the Champions League final where he was one of the best players. Our whole team played good, disciplined football during the tournament, and that makes it easier for the centre-backs, and Lovren and [Domagoj] Vida played their part accordingly. He was surely among the best defenders at the World Cup.”

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