Nikola Kalinic has been sent home from the World Cup by Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic after the AC Milan forward refused to come on as a second-half substitute during the 2-0 defeat of Nigeria on Saturday.
Kalinic, 30, who was starting his fourth successive international on the bench, claimed he had a back injury before telling Dalic he was unable to play.
Speaking after his side’s 2-0 win that made them Group D leaders ahead of Iceland, Argentina and Nigeria, Dalic, according to Croatian media reports, said his side had finished the match in Kaliningrad without any injuries but “with a problem”.
The news will sour what had been a positive start to the tournament after Luka Modric had scored from the penalty spot to seal all three points for Croatia after an own-goal from Oghenekaro Etebo had handed Dalic’s side the lead.
Modric converted in the 71st minute when referee Sandro Ricci awarded a penalty after William Ekong held onto Mario Mandzukic, the only recognised Croatia No 9 following Kalinic’s dismissal.
During a press conference on Monday afternoon Dalic confirmed that Kalinic had been sent home from Russia.
“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.”
Croatia’s next game is against Argentina in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday