KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW: Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic acknowledged France as worthy winners of the 2018 World Cup Final but praised his own players for the campaign which brought them this far for the first time in their country’s 27-year history.

Croatia lost 4-2 after having been taken to extra time in all their three previous knockout round games.

Dalic, who took over only towards the end of the qualifying competition, was not happy with the use of VAR in awarding the penalty which restord he French lead but he did not use that as an excuse for defeat.

He said: “I have to congratulate France for their title. We played well in the first 20 minutes. We controlled the game then we conceded this own goal [by Mario Mandzukic] from a set play.

“We came back to life, dominated and then the penalty was given. I never comment on refereeing but in a World Cup Final you do not give such a penalty. However it in no way diminishes France’s win. Maybe we were a bit unlucky. In the first six games we were favoured by luck, today not.

“I have to congratulate my players for maybe the best game we have played in this championship. We controlled the match but conceded against such a strong side you must not make mistakes. We are a bit sad but we have to be proud as well for what we have done against such quality opposition.

“It was a very good match on our part but you cannot expect to succeed if you concede four goals.”

Croatia, with a population of only 4m, were the smallest nation to reach the final since Uruguay in 1930 but Dalic considered that was a message in itself.

He said: “On our team bus there is a slogan: ‘A small country with big dreams.’

“That’s a good message for small countries. You have to have a dream and ambitions and follow them and then one day it will come true – in football or life in general.

“You should believe and you should never stop believing. At 4-1 down I was not defeated. Overall Croatia played a great tournament. I would like to thank all my players for what they have done. I am proud for my players, my team and my country.”