Doha — Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic demanded respect for his 2018 World Cup finalists after Canada boss John Herdman pledged the North American side would beat them in Qatar.
Dalic's men face Canada at the Khalifa International Stadium in their second Group F match on Sunday, with both teams fighting to keep alive their hopes of reaching the knockout phase.
"I told them they belong here," Herdman said during a TV interview when asked what he told his players in a post-match huddle following their opening 1-0 defeat to Belgium.
The Canada coach used offensive language to urge his players not to be overawed by the Croatians, featuring stars such as Real Madrid's Luka Modric.
Croatia have been angered by Herdman's provocative declaration of intent after Canada's first match at a World Cup for 36 years.
Herdman insisted on Saturday that his rant was simply intended to get his players to focus on Croatia instead of dwelling on their spirited defeat against fancied Belgium.
"The statement I made was to remind these boys that there is another task ahead," he said. "They have been buying into that mentality from day one.
"I don't even think this group are listening to that stuff. The boys know we have goals here. We have to get after it, get on the front foot."
But Croatia, who were held to a lacklustre 0-0 draw against Morocco in their opener, have not taken kindly to the 47-year-old Englishman's comments.
Dalic said Croatia deserve more respect from Herdman as a result of their achievements.
"The Croatian team deserves respect from everyone," he said. "We have proven that by the way we have played and our conduct during the World Cup.
"We respect everyone equally. We are worthy of respect. The Canadians must respect us. These words are not of respect. We are the runners-up in the World Cup."
Responding to Herdman earlier this week, Croatia's 24 Sata tabloid ran a full-page photo of a naked man below Herdman's superimposed head, with maple leaf flags over his mouth and private parts and a headline that translated as "You have the mouth, but do you have the balls as well?"
The controversy over the ebullient Herdman's comment has raised the stakes.
"It's a defining moment for Canada in the World Cup. It's a do-or-die moment," he said.
"We've been waiting 36 years to get here. There is no motivation needed. We are playing Croatia at the World Cup, against people like Luka Modric. What a moment."
While Canada have little to lose after their surprise qualification for the World Cup, the Croatians are under far more pressure.
"This is an extremely important and difficult match for us. We have to be more prepared than in the last match," Dalic said.
"I expect a better Croatia. Very often when we face adversity we have responded."