Cacic says his players showed true face of Croatia
By Steve Tongue
BORDEAUX, FRANCE (Reuters) - Croatia's players showed the world they are not like the supporters who brought shame on the country with their behaviour at Euro 2016, coach Ante Cacic said on Tuesday.
Trouble in the stands at their previous group match against Czech Republic cost the Croatian FA a fine of 100,000 euros ($113,190.00) and some players said they lost concentration after the disturbances as the Czechs forced a late draw.
There were no crowd problems when Cacic's team beat Spain 2-1 to win Group D, however, and he was full of praise not only for the thousands of well behaved fans but for his players.
"This team is like our nation," he said. "The players have shown how to represent your country and how to behave."
Understandably, he was reluctant to concede that avoiding the half of the draw now containing all the most fancied countries was the bonus most observers consider it to be.
"We can talk about which (half) is better but now you have to win every single match," he said. "Maybe we have an easier way but we have to go step-by-step."
Spain must now play Italy with the pair in the same half of the draw as world champions Germany, hosts France and England.
Croatia even enjoyed the best of both worlds by resting five players and still winning.
With nobody suspended, and playmaker Luka Modric plus striker Mario Mandzukic now fit, they will have a full-strength squad for Saturday's last 16 match against a third-placed team.
"I wanted to play the next match with really fresh players," Cacic said. "It's a huge achievement, and now we can be even more self-confident."
Ivan Perisic, named man of the match after his winning goal, said the aim now was to do even better than the Croatia team that finished third at their first World Cup in 1998.
"This was a really special evening for us, but it's only the beginning," he said.
Fellow mid fielder Ivan Rakitic, a Barcelona club mate of several of the Spanish players, said it was a victory for effort over quality.
"When you play against the best team in the world, you have to play like this," he said. "We deserve it. Not always quality wins but effort does.
"I prefer to play in the same team as (Andres) Iniesta, (Sergio) Busquets and (Jordi) Alba than against them.
"I think we can start dreaming. Now I have to explain a few things to my (Spanish) wife."
(Reporting by Steve Tongue; Editing by Ken Ferris)