Croatian striker sent home from World Cup after refusing to play as a sub in opening match

  • Croatia will play the rest of the World Cup with just a 22-man squad after sending home AC Milan forward Nikola Kalinic.

  • Kalinic was reportedly sent home after refusing to enter the team's match against Nigeria as a substitute on Saturday.

  • While Kalinic cited a back injury as the reason for his refusal, many believe that it was due to his frustration with being left out of the starting lineup.

Croatia started off its 2018 World Cup run about as well as could have been hoped, looking pretty fit in a 2-0 victory over Nigeria to earn three points towards advancing out of what appears to be a highly contested Group D.

But while the team is in as good a position as they could hope after one match in the World Cup, Croatia is not without problems of its own. On Monday coach Zlatko Dalic confirmed that AC Milan striker Nikola Kalinic had been sent home for the remainder of the tournament after refusing to enter the match against Nigeria as a substitute.

Kalinic had been asked to enter the match in the 85th minute but refused to do so, citing a back injury. According to Dalic, it wasn't the first time he had invoked an injury to not come off the bench.

"The same thing happened during the Brazil friendly in England, as well as before the practice session on Sunday," Dalic said. "I have calmly accepted that, and since I need my players fit and ready to play, I have made this decision."

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Regardless of the veracity of Kalinic's claimed injury, Croatian media reported that he had been sent home specifically for his refusal to come on as a substitute, frustrated with his role outside of the starting lineup.

Kalinic has helped the Croatian side to success in recent years, including scoring in the team's upset win over Spain in the group stage of Euro 2016. At 30-years-old, it remains a question as to whether or not Kalinic will ever don a national jersey again.

Despite sending Kalinic home, Croatia doesn't have an opportunity to replace him on the squad, leaving the team to play the remainder of the tournament with just 22 men. The short-handed Croatian squad will take on Argentina on Thursday, where an upset win would punch the team's ticket to the knockout stage of the tournament.

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