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Croatia's injured striker sent home from Russia

Nikola Kalinić’s tournament has ended prematurely.

Nikola Kalinic, Croatia.
Nikola Kalinic, Croatia.
Image: EMPICS Sport

Updated at 18.03

AC MILAN STRIKER Nikola Kalinic has returned home from Croatia’s World Cup squad due to a back injury, coach Zlatko Dalic confirmed on Monday.

Kalinic was an unused substitute in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Nigeria with Croatian media reporting he had refused to come on after being left out of the starting line-up.

However, in a short statement before training at Croatia’s base in Roshchino, north-west of Saint Petersburg, Dalic claimed injury was the reason Kalinic’s return to Croatia.

“During the Nigeria encounter, Kalinic was warming up and was supposed to come on in the second half. However, he then stated that he wasn’t ready to come on due to a back issue,” said Dalic.

“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.”

Kalinic has scored 15 goals in 42 international appearances, including three in qualifying to help Croatia reach the finals.

However, he was overlooked in favour of Hoffenheim striker Andrej Kramaric and Juventus’ Mario Mandzukic against Nigeria.

Dalic’s decision proved correct as Kramaric forced Oghenekaro Etebo into an own goal before Mandzukic was brought down for the penalty that Luka Modric converted to make the points safe.

Croatia’s pre-tournament preparations were also overshadowed by off-field distractions.

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Former Dinamo Zagreb chief Zdravko Mamic, widely considered the most powerful man in Croatian football, was sentenced earlier this month to six-and-a-half years in prison over multi-million-euro abuse of power and graft.

In March, Modric was charged for alleged false testimony he gave in the case.

However, having put controversy behind them to beat Nigeria, Milan Badelj believes Croatia will rally from Kalinic’s departure to further damage Lionel Messi’s chances of lifting the World Cup with Argentina when the two sides meet on Thursday.

The pressure is on Messi to perform after missing a penalty in Argentina’s opening 1-1 draw with Iceland.

“There is always pressure for big teams coming from the media or other circumstances,” said the Fiorentina midfielder.

“But great teams must overcome that and I believe we are a great team, a mature team, and can overcome that in the next match.”

© – AFP, 2018

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