NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (Reuters) - Croatia captain Luka Modric could barely hide his joy after the Balkan side crushed Argentina 3-0 in their World Cup Group D showdown on Thursday, but he cautioned that they must keep their feet on the ground as they move to the next round.
The victory meant Croatia have qualified from their section with a game to spare and they served notice that, with their composure and power, they are capable of going far.
“The most important objective was achieved,” Modric said. “We are ecstatic over it. But I think that we should go game by game. Let`s not be euphoric. Let`s not get ahead of ourselves.”
“Of course this will boost our confidence for the next game. It`s going to be tough. But let`s avoid euphoria, let`s keep our feet firmly on the ground and prepare for the next matches.”Twice champions Argentina had the better of a scrappy and sometimes ill-tempered first half in which both sides spurned chances, but Croatia turned on the class in the second half.
Argentina goalkeeper Willy Caballero gifted Croatia the breakthrough goal, inexplicably lobbing the ball to Ante Rebic who twisted to blast home a volley in the 53rd minute.
Modric added a second in the 80th, swerving right, then left and right again before hammering home a thunderous shot from just outside the area. Ivan Rakitic struck a third in added time to complete the South Americans’ humiliation.
“At the end, our victory looks easy but it was not that easy. That first goal in the second half followed from their goalie’s mistake,” Real Madrid midfielder Modric said.
“It was a shot in the arm for us. We played a perfect game. In the second half, we set a balance, we created possession, and thank God we scored three times. We are over the top with our victory.”
Modric added that Croatia, who have reached the second round for the first time since their best showing at a finals in 1998 when they came third overall, deserved the victory due to their own performance, rather than Argentina’s failings.
“This result and Argentina`s poor display was due to our good game, our compact block all over the pitch, particularly when we didn’t have the ball,” said Modric.
“We cut off the lines of passing, we wanted to avoid Messi getting the ball. I believe that we played a fantastic game.”
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic also cautioned his squad against getting carried away.
“We have to be happy, we have emerged from the group. We have beaten great Argentina with the greatest player in the world, Messi,” he said.
“However, we have to pray to God we don`t go over the top. We have to be humble, dignified, put in a good shift as a team. No-one is happier than I am but I have to keep calm and composed, feet on the ground.”
Croatia played with patience until the break came, he said.
“I told the lads at halftime to be patient, we would have opportunities. The players did everything they were told.”
Croatia, who beat Nigeria 2-0 in their opening game, take on Iceland in their final Group D match on Tuesday.
Reporting by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Ken Ferris