06/20 14:04 CDT Say what? Croatia coach: Argentina the 'easiest game for us'
Say what? Croatia coach: Argentina the 'easiest game for us'
By GERALD IMRAY
AP Sports Writer
NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (AP) --- Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic's analysis of the
World Cup game against Argentina required a double take.
He said Wednesday that Argentina would be the "easiest game" for the Croatians
in the group stage.
Dalic clarified: "I didn't say that Argentina was the easiest opponent. I said
that this was the easiest game for us. We have nothing to lose. We are playing
against one of the best."
Dalic argued that no one expects Croatia to beat Lionel Messi and Argentina in
Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday and so the pressure's off.
"We have three points in the bag," Dalic said.
Croatia impressed to beat Nigeria 2-0 to open its World Cup. Argentina is at
the other end of the pressure spectrum. A surprising 1-1 draw with Iceland ---
which included a missed Messi penalty --- means the South Americans desperately
need to win to put their World Cup back on track.
It's true that Croatia is the underdog in the Group D meeting, but Dalic is
being modest about his team.
Argentina has Messi, sure, the player Dalic and Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic
both referred to as the best in the world.
"I will just repeat once again: For me, Lionel Messi is the best player of all
time," said Rakitic, Messi's teammate at Barcelona.
But Croatia has fabulous individuals on its team, too, specifically the
midfield pairing of Rakitic and Real Madrid's Luka Modric.
Rakitic and Dalic, full of praise for Messi and Argentina, also said that
Croatia will be lifted by playing against them.
And it wasn't necessary, Rakitic said, to use his knowledge of playing with
Messi at Barcelona to advise Croatia's defenders on how to stop him.
"What can I tell them that they don't know?" Rakitic said. "The world knows.
Messi is one of the best players in the world. He will have his moments,
clearly. It is up to us to stop him, to play the right way against him, and to
enjoy the match and play our best.
"It's a beautiful thing to play against one of the best teams in the world. We
are especially motivated."
Croatia will qualify for the knockout stage with a win, which would be the
first time it has made it past the group stage since reaching the semifinals
and finishing third in 1998.
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