Dinamo Zagreb secured qualification for the Europa League playoffs on Thursday night with a hard-fought 1-0 win over West Ham United. The playoffs – a new knockout round devised after the dismissal of the old round-of-32 system – will see the Europa League’s second-placed teams drawn against third-placed sides from the Champions League group stage.
Recently-appointed boss Zeljko Kopic faced the press after the match, and the 44-year-old was very pleased by what he saw on the unfamiliar turf at the London Stadium.
“We are happy with the quality we showed tonight and we did have chances to score another goal with the pressure we created during the first half. We then stabilised our game during the rest of the match.
“We are very satisfied with tonight’s result but there are now three other matches that we want to work hard on and succeed in as well. We didn’t waste all of our resources, so the boys are very motivated and it is a good way to carry on.”
Zagreb have endured a rough patch in domestic football of late. Kopic’s side were beaten by both Hajduk Split and HNK Rijeka in the last 10 days, although he was not appointed until after the Croatian Cup defeat to Rijeka. Dinamo’s form has been much sweeter in Europe.
“The engagement of the team was much better today, compared to the previous games. We took lessons from those games and we communicated during our meetings. The quality of the team is such that we managed to apply the ideas that we talked about and the performance today was an obvious consequence of that.
“Dinamo is carrying on the performance in the Europa League, which the club is very happy about. I am also very happy. There was maximum focus on the game and things went our way and because of that I am very happy for the club and for the players – they were at their best for this match.”
Kopic fielded a three-back formation, which was a shake-up for the side after their 4-2-3-1 set-up was beaten 2-0 by bitter rivals Split. Josip Sutalo, Kevin Theophile-Catherine and Dino Peric held firm at the back, restricting West Ham to just two shots against goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
“This style of play suits me. There was peaceful handling of the ball when it was in our possession and we actually rested on the ball. That made this game successful for us.
“We wanted to enforce our plan of the game and we wanted to use the width of the pitch. I felt that the safety in our play and the danger that we posed from the defence to the attack was good. [West Ham] started attacking us after we scored the goal but the stability of the team was at a high level and we could count on our defence.
“Luka [Ivanusec] was brilliant in the game and the whole team performed very well. We tried to get our breaks, so we built the team to fulfil all the necessary demands that I put on them.”
A glorious third-minute wonder-goal from Mislav Orsic booked the Madri’s spot in the next round, where they could face European giants in Borussia Dortmund or FC Barcelona. Despite the draw just three days away, Kopic was quick to turn the attention to Dinamo’s upcoming league ties.
“Let’s first sort out the next three games. We will think about future matches later on – the future is not present.”