ZAGREB, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) -- Croatia became one of the 32 teams that will compete for FIFA World Cup glory in Russia next summer, after forcing a scoreless draw at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus, Greece on Sunday night and defending a huge 4-1 advantage gained in the first playoff match in Zagreb.
For the fifth time in its history, Croatia had to fight for the berth through the playoffs, and the players led by head coach Zlatko Dalic did just as good as in the previous four attempts.
Dalic came to this position in a very delicate situtation, as a rescue coach, replacing Ante Cacic after a string of poor results made Croatia's trip to Ukraine in the last match of the group phase a do-or-die mission.
Under Dalic, the team performed well in Kiev and beat Ukraine 2-0 to secure its place in the playoffs against Greece. Even though Greece were considered a big threat with their defensive style of play, Croatia had put opponents under big pressure and took advantage of their mistakes by scoring four goals in Zagreb last Thursday, which proved to be a crucial and insurmountable advantage for a return match in Piraeus.
Dalic's tactic in the return match was much different from the one used in Zagreb. With three goals advantage in his hands he set a strong defense.
Dalic said that it is not in the nature of Croatian players to defend but they had proved to be a very strong defensive team when they have to.
"I don't want to talk about the way we played. We had a goal in this match and we've reached it. The players did their job and they've earned their very well deserved place at the World Cup," Dalic said after the match in Piraeus.
He refused to sign a long term contract with the Croatian Football Federation (CFF) before the end of the playoffs so, technically, the Croatian team is now again without a coach.
However, there is no doubt that 51-year-old Dalic will be at the helm of the team at the World Cup.
"I am ready. It will take a minute from my side to reach the agreement," Dalic said.
Captain Luka Modric was the first to recognize Dalic's contribution to this result and left no doubt about who is the right person for the job. "It would be crazy not to put Dalic at this position. I think he has made a phenomenal job this past month," Modric said.
CFF president Davor Suker said that he expected to meet with Dalic on Tuesday and sign the deal. "We've been talking with Dalic and he will lead Croatia at the World Cup. We just have to talk about the terms but we will agree," Suker said.
The financial terms shouldn't be a problem as CFF has earned eight million US dollars by reaching the World Cup. From that prize money the players will devide among themselves 2.5 millions and 0.7 millions will be a paid out to Dalic and former coach Cacic, as well as their staff members.
The summer of 2018 will probably be the last chance for this generation of players, led by 32-year-old Real Madrid star Luka Modric, to shine on the world's biggest stage and Zlatko Dalic earned his chance to manage them.
On December 1, at the official draw in Moscow, Croatia will hope for a group that would help its chances to make it to the knockout stage, something that didn't happen since 1998 in France when the team won a bronze medal and put the small southeastern European country on the world map of football.