Croatia manager Zlatko Dalić has explained that the World Cup runners up worked hard on preventing Lionel Messi from impacting their group stage match against Argentina back in June, on their road to the final at the Luzhniki Stadium.
Dalić guided his side to a 3-0 win over Jorge Sampaoli's Argentina on matchday two in Group D, with the goals coming courtesy of Ante Rebić, Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić.
The result announced Croatia as serious contenders for the World Cup during the summer, brushing off their 'dark horse' tag and all but confirming their place in the knockout stages of the competition.
Head coach Dalić explained that his side focused on exploiting Argentina's 'small weaknesses' to help keep Messi quiet throughout the match.
"For me, Leo Messi is the best player in the world, and he is showing that week after week," Dalić told Goal. "It's harder for Messi to play for Argentina than Barcelona, and we tried to exploit what we considered small weaknesses in the Argentinian team.
Messi has won 33 trophies with Barcelona and 7 medals with Argentina (2 gold,4 silver,1 bronze). 40 teams awards for this guy and 100 individual awards.— Zoé 🌸 (@imaginiuss) November 2, 2018
"The key was to be disciplined and to follow our tactical game plan fully, and our players did exactly that. We tried to stop the ball from reaching Messi and to contain him quickly in the areas where he likes to receive the ball.
"As good as Messi is, football is a team sport and if one team performs better than the other it's hard for any individual to turn everything around. Croatia were just a better team than Argentina in that game."
Dalić lauded the 29-year-old as one of the best performing defenders at the World Cup during the summer, although his form hasn't been able to carry through to the Premier League due to his battle with injury.