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.