Why Croatia will have one player fewer than every other World Cup quarter-finalist

Why Croatia will have one player fewer than every other World Cup quarter-finalist

One breathtakingly nervous penalty shootout later and Croatia are officially in the quarterfinals of this year’s World Cup. 

Ivan Rakitic held his nerve as he converted the winning penalty as Croatia sent Denmark home.

Going into the quarterfinals, Croatia have a match against Russia to look forward to, with the hosts eliminating 2010 World Cup winners Spain earlier this afternoon.

Despite the Russian heroics and the lack of performance from Croatia this evening, Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic will go into the next match as favourites to reach the semi-finals.

However, he will have to lead his side with one less player in his squad after deciding to send home striker Nikola Kalinic from their World Cup squad.

Kalinic refused to come onto the pitch as a substitute in Croatia’s 2-0 victory over Nigeria in the group stages.

The forward expressed that the reason he didn’t feel ready to enter the match was because of a back injury he has had since a friendly match against Brazil prior to the tournament.

For Dalic, this reasoning wasn’t acceptable enough and he decided to send home Kalinic, leaving the Croatia squad with just 22 players to choose from.

Explaining his decision, Dalic told reporters (via BBC Sport): “I need my players fit and ready to play.”

“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.

“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’s absence has clearly not been an issue, with Croatia dispatching Argentina 3-0 after his flight home.

A 2-1 victory against Iceland set up the soon-to-be nerve-wracking tie against Denmark but despite one fewer player to choose from, Dalic’s side reached their first quarter-final since 1998.

Croatia face Russia this Saturday evening at 7pm.