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Kovacic: “Brazil, favourites? We’re ready for them”

The Croatia midfielder joined team mate Dejan Lovren to look ahead to Friday’s quarter final against Brazil.

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Croatia Press Conference - Al Erssal Training Site 3, Doha, Qatar - December 7, 2022 Croatia's Mateo Kovacic during the press conference REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Mateo Kovacic and Dejan Lovren are two of the senior members of the Croatia squad - and coach Zlatko Dalic, two of his most trusted players. On Wednesday, yhey sat down to analyse Friday’s quarter final clash against Brazil.

You and Modric were both substituted before the penalty shoot-out in the game against Japan. How do you see Modric?

We all know how important Luka is for Croatia. He is our captain, our leader and it is a great honor to play with him. He is the most important player in our team.

Everyone considers Brazil as the favourite...

“Absolutely! Brazil are always among the favorites to win the World Cup. But what we care about is ourselves, regardless of our rivals.

We don’t see you playing high up in and around the opponent’s box anymore, why is that? And what happened to your face?

We are putting in a great effort. It’s December and we’re in good shape. My injury? It’s nothing, just a little accident in training. As for not playing near the box anymore, of course, it would be great to grab the ball, race past a couple of players then score, but it’s not as simple as that. Other people also play well and prevent you from doing that. I am satisfied with my performance, although I think we can do better. In the Premier League, I’m used to tough games like the one that’s coming up. We have to impose our game, technically and physically. We are ready. We have two more days to rest and show our true face.

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The results from this World Cup place Croatia as one of the strongest teams in Western Europe.

Yes, I think the results show that we are a very good team. We have a lot of talent, as in previous years. In recent years, we have shown power, our unity and it is an honor to fight for Croatia. We are showing that we are a good side and we have to continue like this.

In what areas can you improve?

I think I can improve a lot in finding spaces and creating goal-scoring opportunities. Each match has its own needs and you have to show your quality in each one.

How can Croatia beat Brazil?

We have to play our own game, keep possession, not make mistakes and try to score an early goal. That would help us. That is where we are dangerous. Brazil are dangerous, but that is the direction we want to take.

Croatia's Ivan Perisic, Dejan Lovren, Luka Modric and forward #16 Bruno Petkovic in training this week.
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Croatia's Ivan Perisic, Dejan Lovren, Luka Modric and forward #16 Bruno Petkovic in training this week.JACK GUEZAFP

Lovren: “I hope Gvardiol mentions me as a mentor”

Have you talked to your Brazilian friends? Would you be offended by their dance routine if they score?

I’ve been talking to a lot of Brazilians, except for the players we’re going to play against this weekend. They are my friends and we will be great friends after the game too. Dance celebrations? Let them dance if they score a goal. I don’t see any disrespect. I see nothing wrong with that. Let them do what they want and celebrate how they want. It is part of their culture.

How do you stop Brazil?

You have to stop all eleven players. They have a dangerous team, they are fantastic individually, they play for the best clubs in the world. We are ready for the fight.

You are one of Gvardiol's mentors.

As a child, I followed in the footsteps of Simunic, Kovac, Krizanac, and others. I watched them and followed what they were doing and absorbed everything they told me. Now I have that role myself. Maybe they were a little more forceful with me. I try to talk to Gvardiol as much as possible and give him advice. He listens, he takes it all in and I think he is way ahead of me when I was 20 years old. He has the quality he shows at the World Cup and before that, it’s no wonder everyone is interested in him. I hope that one day he will also mention me as a mentor.

Do you agree that Brazil is the favourite?

Brazil is definitely the favourite. They have two teams that can take the field and change the course of the game at any time. They are the favourites, but we don't have a problem with that. We respect everyone, but we look at ourselves and that's how we'll go out on the field.

What do you say to those who have criticized you?

What can I say? I am my own biggest critic and no one else has to point anything out to me. I tell myself if I’m playing well or badly. It’s important that everyone stays healthy and happy and we move on... That’s all that matters.