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Croatia’s Lovren relieved to put ‘rollercoaster’ behind him at World Cup

Sochi (Russia) (AFP) – Croatia defender Dejan Lovren says he has put his past troubles at international level firmly behind him as he prepares for Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final against hosts Russia.

Lovren is set to start the match in Sochi after working his way back into contention with his country since the appointment of Zlatko Dalic as coach last October.

He had been out of favour for much of the previous three years under Niko Kovac and then Ante Cacic, meaning he played no part at Euro 2016 in France.

Cacic said he left Lovren out of his squad at the European Championship because he felt the former Southampton man was not a team player and “looked down” on his colleagues as well as the coaching staff.

“It was a real rollercoaster with a lot of ups and downs,” Liverpool centre-back Lovren said on Thursday, his 29th birthday.

“I was most sad to have missed Euro 2016, but I hope to have made things right with the last few games and I am looking forward now.”

Dalic came in at the end of Croatia’s qualifying campaign for the World Cup and took them through in a play-off against Greece.

He has since taken the team to the last eight in Russia after a penalty shootout win over Denmark at the weekend, which followed an impressive showing in the group stage.

The highlight of that was a comprehensive 3-0 win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina.

“We made our lives more difficult for ourselves in the qualifiers despite starting well,” said Atletico Madrid full-back Sime Vrsaljko as Croatia prepared to train in Sochi.

“However, we reached our goal, which was to qualify and we have been playing good football at the World Cup. Zlatko Dalic came in at a difficult moment but he is doing a great job now.”

Croatia are through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1998, when they defeated Germany 3-0 before losing 2-1 to hosts France in the semi-finals.

“We respect the generation of ’98. They are the most successful Croatian team to date, and they set the bar so high that in 20 years no Croatian team has been able to top that,” Lovren added.

“However, the team right now is very good and we have a chance to outdo that generation.”

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