Dejan Lovren: Croatia’s World Cup run proves I’m one of world’s best defenders

Dominic Fifield in Moscow on 12 July 2018

Dejan Lovren believes he has proved himself as one of the best defenders in the world after helping to steer Croatia into a first World Cup final, and suggested his team’s ability to see off England at the Luzhniki Stadium boiled down to strength of character.

The Liverpool defender, who missed Euro 2016, grew into Wednesday’s semi-final and, seven weeks after enduring crushing disappointment in the Champions League final against Real Madrid, will now confront France on Sunday seeking to secure his country’s first World Cup. Croatia will be motivated further by the chance to avenge their semi-final loss to Les Bleus 20 years ago, though Lovren already feels he has restored his nation’s reputation, as well as his own, at the tournament in Russia.

The centre-half was infuriated before the England game by references to his errors in a 4-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur last October that led to him being substituted after 31 minutes at Wembley. Harry Kane prospered that day but, in Moscow, the England captain was blunted. “This feels incredible, especially after everything that was said about us before the game,” said Lovren. “We showed our character. We showed that we deserved to be in the final and people should respect us. Sometimes, the criticism is unfair and people should respect me also. Without being arrogant I think I have [been proved to be one of the best defenders in the world]. Definitely.

“But this criticism is what gets me more motivated to work harder and prove everyone wrong. Everyone. From today, everyone in Croatia and around the world saw we managed to make history. In 20 years’ time, people will remember us, and not just the team from 1998. That is why I am proud, and now we have one game to make people remember us forever.

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“It is special history when you look back and see we had to play 120 minutes three times and we still had fresher legs than that England team. The difference was mental because we knew we could write history and we did it.

“We went through a lot of shit: war, all these things, and even now the situation is not the best. But it is unbelievable how many talents we have in sport. At basketball, at handball, at water polo, at tennis especially. We have good mothers and fathers, making good love.”

Zlatko Dalic’s team, who eventually prevailed courtesy of Mario Mandzukic’s 109th minute winner, will now attempt to recover their energy levels after a third gruelling knockout game in succession that has gone to extra time, with memories of 1998 fuelling their intent. Croatia took the lead at the Stade de France against the World Cup hosts courtesy of Davor Suker, only for Lillian Thuram’s brace to see France through despite Laurent Blanc’s controversial dismissal.

“I was nine and I remember my mum was screaming and crying after the French game,” said Lovren. “Maybe it’s our time for revenge. It’s going to be a tough game, it will be difficult, but we have a good chance to give them something back for 20 years ago.

“[Kylian] Mbappé is one of the best wingers or strikers in the world, and his speed makes him so unpredictable. But we have played – and I have played – against the biggest players in the world and managed to keep them out. It will be a big challenge, but I believe in this team. I said after the Argentina group game [which was won 3-0] that I had a good feeling. People were mocking of us, but I felt we could do something.

“For me, it is beautiful. If somebody had told me at the beginning of the season that I would play in two of the biggest finals in the world, I would have signed up straight away. I went through a lot of shit. Unfortunately I didn’t win the Champions League, but there is still this. I believed more that I could win the Champions League – I believe that from day one because we had the power and speed at Liverpool – than coming here to Russia. Here we have different players, but we have showed we can manage. France are definitely the favourites, there is no hiding from that, but we love to be the underdogs.”

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