ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatian players left out of the starting line-up in their Euro 2020 Group D matches must accept being down the pecking order and be ready to perform as role players, coach Zlatko Dalic said after they reached the last 16.
The Croatians, the 2018 World Cup runners-up, advanced to the knockout stages of the tournament with a 3-1 win over Scotland at Hampden Park on Tuesday and they face the Group E runners-up on Monday for a quarter-final berth.
Dalic, who tinkered with his first eleven and came under intense pressure after the opening 1-0 defeat by England and a 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic, acknowledged reaching the next round was a huge relief.
"It will be a lot easier now but we must keep our feet on the ground and avoid getting euphoric after one good match," Dalic told a news conference in Croatia's Rovinj base camp on the Balkan nation's Adriatic coast on Wednesday.
"We have to learn from the three group matches because the opening two were poor. We have to forget the good game against the Scots because we don't want to stop here.
"We have a very strong roster, we haven't had one like that in a while. But I can't please everyone. It's normal that players left out of the first eleven are not thrilled, I'd be disappointed if they were.
"The substitutes can add energy and change the course of a game at any time. But there are no rifts within the squad, all those rumours are untrue because the players understand that no one is above the team."
Attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, who cut a forlorn figure after coming as a substitute in the opening two games, earned the man-of-the-match award with a fine display against the Scots, which included scoring Croatia's opening goal.
Centre back Dejan Lovren will miss the round of 16 clash through suspension after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament against Scotland, but Dalic has an apt replacement in Duje Caleta-Car who started against England.
"Our confidence has grown now that we have achieved our primary goal of advancing past the group stage. We'll take it one game at a time now but we believe that we are entitled to think big," added the 54-year-old coach.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic, editing by Pritha Sarkar)