DOHA, Qatar — An emotional John Herdman has apparently given Croatia some bulletin-board material ahead of its World Cup showdown with Canada on Sunday.
Immediately after Wednesday's 1-0 loss to second-ranked Belgium — a game that saw No. 41 Canada dominate play but fail to score — Herdman shared what he told his players in the post-game huddle on the field.
"I told them they belong here and we're going to go and eff--- Croatia," he said with a smile in FIFA's official post-game pitchside interview. "That's as simple as it gets."
A loss to No. 12 Croatia and Canada's hope of advancing to the knockout round out of Group F evaporates.
Asked about Herdman's comments, Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic said everybody has their own communication style.
"I'm not sure how nice it is to say something like that but it's his right," he added through an interpreter. "I think we need to show on the pitch that we're better."
On Thursday, a Croatian reporter asked Herdman about his comment.
"Did you really say after last night's match that you were going to F-word Croatia? And if you did, is that underestimating … Croatia as runner-up of (the) last World Cup?"
Herdman did not back down, but was more diplomatic this time around.
"Great question," he said. "And yeah, I did. You say those things in an impassioned moment, trying to inspire your team in a huddle. And when you're asked the question what you said in that huddle, yeah, it was what I said.
"It's not massively respectively to (the) Croatian people and the Croatian national team. I understand very well where they're at on the world stage. But in that moment, you've taken your men to that next place. You've taken your team to that next place — that we're here to be fearless and to bring everything we've got to that game.
"I mean no disrespect to the Croatian team and Croatian people, but at the end of the day it's a mindset that Canada's going to have if we're going to have three points against one of the top teams in the world. And it's the mindset that we took to Belgium. We have to. It's part of 'New Canada,'" he said referencing the label he had given his team.
Asked about his take on the Croatian team, Herdman called its midfield trio "the best in the world," saying it will be a privilege to play Luka Modric whom he called "arguably the generational midfielder of his time."
"And these (Canadian) men get a chance to compete against him and we're excited."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press