Croatia appeared in their first-ever World Cup Final last month in Russia, surprising a lot of football fans, and the class of 2018 finally shook the shadow of the 1998 team that were unfairly ousted from the France World Cup at the semi-final stage.
Croatia’s success was largely built on the experience of their midfield and the dogged determination of centre-back pairing Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren. All but one of their knock-out games went to extra-time and they had to battle their way to the final.
Dejan Lovren has now returned to his club side Liverpool, and we take a look at whether he can transfer his new-found defensive steel to the Anfield pitch.
How did Lovren excel in Russia?
First things first, we need to look at what exactly Lovren did for his team in Russia. Leading up to the tournament, the Croatian national team were vilified by their fans over domestic scandals at home.
Much like the Italian side of 1982, the Croatians took this adversity and used it to their advantage. Creating a siege mentality, led by the senior players in the squad – including Lovren – they managed to fight their way through a host of difficult games.
The Croation team were the epitome of dogged determination in Russia, something that was borne out in the stats, with the Croatians committing the most fouls (114) of any team in the tournament. The team fought, battled and struggled to achieve their goals and Lovren personified that approach.
The Liverpool man set about proving his English critics wrong and put his body on the line in every challenge he made. None more so than when facing England in the semi-finals, when he finally managed to get one over on Tottenham forward Harry Kane.
At times during Lovren’s time in the north-west, he has looked shorn of confidence, and has often erred on the side of caution rather than committing himself. Lovren’s renewed self-confidence and resolve will be needed in the coming months for Liverpool.
A low head and hunched shoulders are the first signs of disinterest and lacking confidence in a footballer, characteristics that Lovren has shown on multiple occasions during his time with Liverpool. However, the Liverpool centre-back showed his mental resolve when Croatia beat England in the semi-finals and had this to say after the match;
“Before this game they said we are tired but we showed in extra-time we had fresher legs than them. Simple as that. Not just the English press, I am saying from the beginning. It is just sometimes it is unfair. Like in my case when you are talking about me.
“I think people should respect me also. But from today everyone in Croatia and around the world thinks that we managed to make history today. It is special history when you look back and see three times, 120 minutes and we had fresher legs than that England team.
“The difference was mental. Mentally. Because we knew we could write history today and we did it. Now there is only one game left to make it forever.
“But I think even now after 20 years people will remember us and not just the ’98 team. This is what I wanted. This is why I am proud. You deserve this.
“It feels incredible, especially after everything that was said about us before the game. We showed our character we showed that we deserved to be in the final and people should respect us.”
How can Lovren benefit Liverpool
Liverpool appear to have done fantastic business over the summer, and many pundits have identified them as Manchester City’s key rivals for the title. If Dejan Lovren returns to Anfield and plays even half as well as he did for Croatia in the summer, Liverpool will do well this season.