There may be trouble ahead. Croatia can be very sensitive when it comes to the issue of respect, with Luka Modric and Co getting themselves worked up about ‘Football’s Coming Home’ in Russia in 2018.
Here in Qatar, they have already taken offence at remarks by Canada boss John Herdman, who said he was going to tell his players to ‘eff Croatia’.
Next up come Brazil, with their carefully choreographed goal celebrations.
Brazil boss Tite has hit back after Roy Keane’s criticism of his side’s dancing goal celebrations
Brazil players joyfully jived by the corner flag after scoring in a 4-1 last-16 win over South Korea
The hip-swaying samba routines during the 4-1 second round romp over South Korea did not go down well with Roy Keane. ‘I don’t like this, it’s disrespectful,’ he snapped in the ITV studio and Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic agreed he would not want to see such frivolity among his players.
Tite, however, is all about love and romance. He will give his players licence to express their emotions freely. As far as he is concerned, it is a case of ‘let’s face the Modric and dance’.
‘This is not my team,’ said Tite yesterday. ‘This is Brazil’s team and I’m just the head coach. I will not comment on those who do not understand our history and our culture.
‘It is part of our education. Kids dance in schools because it’s Brazilian culture and that’s not disrespectful. We will continue to do things in our manner.
A fuming ITV pundit Keane labelled the celebrations ‘disrespectful’ and ‘like watching Strictly’
‘I know we face challenges and criticism, but that’s the football I believe in. Even if there is criticism and we don’t win the World Cup, we move forwards playing our football with what we believe in.’
As for his own decision to join Richarlison for a brief touchline boogie after the Tottenham player made it 3-0 against the Koreans on Monday, Tite added: ‘It’s a way for me to connect with the younger generation.
‘I am 61 and I’m working with some players of 21 or 22. They could be my grandchildren and I have to have that connection with them. If I have to dance to connect to my players, I will continue dancing.’
The scene is set for a clash of cultures at the Education City Stadium in Doha in the first of the World Cup’s quarter-finals today and Dalic was asked what he made of it all.
The Irishman said one time would have been manageable but after every goal was over the top
‘They have their own way,’ shrugged the Croatia boss. ‘They celebrate how they know, they are festive, in unity, they demonstrate their character and tradition and that is their right.
‘Respect or disrespect, I cannot say. I would not like to see my players celebrate like that, but it’s a different culture and they like to dance. It’s in their culture and it’s nice.’
Perhaps the outspoken 56-year-old was treading with a little more care than usual after offending the figure skating community back home in Croatia with his comments after grinding past Japan on penalties in the last 16.
‘This is not figure skating, this is a fight for a result,’ implored Dalic as he praised the spirit and resilience of his team, but felt the need to explain his words and issue an apology when he spoke again yesterday.
Manager Tite, 61, joked his neck was sore after joining in with Richarlison’s ‘pigeon’ celebration
‘Figure skating is a difficult sport,’ he said with contrition. ‘I was trying to draw comparison to say that in football the aesthetics are not important, only the result. I would like to apologise. I did not mean to offend anyone.’
Croatia’s durability is renowned. They drove through the knockout stages in 2018 by beating Denmark and Russia on penalties, and England in extra time, and they will require more of this fighting spirit against Brazil, opponents they have never beaten in four previous meetings.
‘We did a great thing by reaching the quarter-finals but we want more,’ said Modric, who will face opponents he knows well from Real Madrid including Vinicius Junior and Casemiro.
‘We know the greatest match at the World Cup is ahead of us.
Luka Modric told reporters Brazil ‘deserve to be’ one of the favourites for this year’s World Cup
‘We know Brazil are one of the big favourites and they deserve to be.
‘We have to be ourselves, do our best as we have done so far, play our best and if we do we will have a chance of winning. We are not satisfied with the quarter-finals, we know there is a great match ahead against strong opponents but we have faith in ourselves.’
Croatia will be inspired by the memories of their 3-0 win over Argentina in Russia four years ago, but Dalic has been keen to point out that this is largely a new, young, inexperienced squad, despite containing veterans such as Modric, at 37, and Ivan Perisic and Dejan Lovren, both 33.
‘This is a new team with 18 players not at the previous World Cup,’ said Dalic.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said his team needs time to prove themselves despite their progress
‘In 2018, we had a national team playing together for 10 years, in the best leagues and in some of the best clubs in the world, but this is not the situation with this team. We need time.
‘This team is yet to prove itself and this World Cup is a great opportunity to do that.
‘There’s no better motive than a quarter-final against Brazil. We know what Brazil means in the football world.
‘We don’t have a lot to lose. We must fight and must be a dignified opponent. To be one of the eight best is a success and we want to do more. So let’s fight fair and square and I hope we will reach the right result.’
If it is all square after extra time, Croatia will be pleased to go to penalties, not a dance-off.