Croatia send their reluctant substitute Nikola Kalinic home

Written by on June 19, 2018

• Striker refused to come off bench against Nigeria

• Coach says same thing happened in Brazil friendly

The Croatia striker Nikola Kalinic has been sent home from the World Cup finals after refusing on Saturday to enter the Group D match against Nigeria as a substitute.

Zlatko Dalic, the Croatia coach, confirmed in a statement on Monday that the forward would be returning home. Dalic said that Kalinic had claimed he was not fit to play when asked to enter the match, which Croatia won 2-0, during the final minutes.

“During the Nigeria encounter, Kalinic was warming up and was supposed to come on in the second half,” Dalic said. “However, he then stated that he wasn’t ready to come on due to a back issue. The same thing happened during the Brazil friendly in England, as well as before the practice session on Sunday. I have calmly accepted that, and since I need my players fit and ready to play, I have made this decision.”

The Croatian Football Association confirmed that Dalic had consulted his coaching staff.

Confirmation came several hours after reports of Kalinic’s dismissal circulated in the Croatian press. After the match on Saturday Dalic had referred to there being a “problem” in the camp but had refused to elaborate. He also refused to answer direct questions about Kalinic.

Kalinic has 41 caps, scoring 15 goals, but he last started for the national side in 2017. Dalic has opted to play Juventus’s Mario Mandzukic as his main striker at the World Cup, with Hoffenheim’s Andrej Kramaric in support.

The incident caps a disappointing year for Kalinic. The 30-year-old has endured an underwhelming season on loan at Milan, scoring just six goals in 31 appearances. Rumours have suggested the former Blackburn Rovers player may be sold by his parent club Fiorentina, with several Turkish clubs interested.

As for Croatia, they must play out the rest of the tournament with 22 players, with no replacements being allowed at this stage. They are top of their group and their next match is a potentially critical game against Argentina in Nizhny Novogorod on Thursday. Argentina drew with Iceland, who play Nigeria in Volgograd on Friday.

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