How a stint in UAE club football changed Croatian coach's fortunes

It was with the Al Ain club that Dalic first underlined his credentials as a world-class football manager

By Rituraj Borkakoty in Doha

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Zlatko Dalic.
Zlatko Dalic.

Published: Tue 13 Dec 2022, 1:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 13 Dec 2022, 10:17 AM

Zlatko Dalic is now two steps away from making history with Croatia. Having scripted Brazil’s downfall with a tactical masterclass in the quarterfinal, the Croatian coach is now aiming to end Argentina’s hopes of winning their third World Cup title when the two teams clash in the semifinals on Tuesday.

Dalic has performed miracles since taking over as Croatia coach in 2017, just eight months before the start of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

A resolute defensive midfielder in his playing career, Dalic was only moderately successful as a coach until he was named the manager of the UAE’s AL Ain club in 2014.

It was with the Al Ain club that Dalic first underlined his credentials as a world-class football manager.

Under his leadership, Al Ain won the UAE Pro-League in 2015 and finished runners-up in the 2016 AFC Champions League, the biggest club competition in Asia.

The Croat was named the manager of the year in the UAE after he guided Al Ain to the 2015 Pro League victory.

Al Ain made great strides under Dalic for three years, but the Croat decided to step down for family reasons in January 2017.


Eight months later, he was in the hot seat as the Croatian manager, carrying the managerial momentum in Al Ain into his new role in international football.

The 56-year-old tactician hasn’t looked back since.

When Dalic was named the new coach, Croatia were in a vulnerable position in the race to qualify for Russia 2018.

But he steadied the ship before his team clinched a spot for Russia with a playoff win over Greece.

What followed next was the stuff of legends as Croatia went on a giant-killing run in Russia, showing remarkable skills and endurance as they won every knockout battle in extra-time to set up a final clash with France.

The Les Bleus were too strong for the Croats in the final but Dalic and his team returned to heroes’ welcome in Croatia, a country of just four million people.

A small country with a big passion for football, Croatia left Russia with the world admiring their ability to punch way above their weight - and it was Dalic that was at the centre of attention for turning Croatia’s fortunes in quite dramatic fashion.

A team that was dangerously close to missing out on a place at the World Cup, ended up fighting for the biggest trophy with a star-studded French team.

Dalic received widespread praise for his role in Croatia’s stunning turnaround.

He returned to the World Cup in Qatar with the perfect blend of old and new, as his 2022 team features some of the heroes from the squad in Russia and some very talented youngsters.

Just like in 2018, Croatia needed extra-time and penalties to win their first two knockout games in Qatar.

While many pundits may put a question mark over their ability to last another grueling encounter with Argentina in the semifinal, Dalic is a battle-hardened manager who knows how to survive a knockout match.

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