Croatia striker Nikola Kalinic refused a 2018 FIFA World Cup runners-up medal after being sent home from the tournament for declining to come on in the team’s Group D opener against Nigeria.
Kalinic failed to figure in Croatia’s World Cup campaign, which ended when they were beat 4-2 by France in the final. He was offered a second-place medal but told Sportske Novosti (h/t Independent), “Thanks for the medal, but I did not play in Russia.”
The 30-year-old was believed to have feigned a back injury when asked to come off the bench against Nigeria and was sent home by manager Zlatko Dalic shortly after.
The Croatia medical staff reportedly didn’t agree with Kalinic’s self-diagnosis of a back complaint, and they and the coaching staff believed he was lying. Kalinic was sent home the day after, and Dalic said:
“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.”
If Kalinic was faking his knock, he at least appears to have come to terms with his own contribution to missing out on a piece of national history, though he’ll have to live with any regret he may harbour.
The veteran striker will be 34 by the time the 2022 World Cup in Qatar rolls around, giving him little chance of making Croatia’s cut, although his chances will be even slimmer if Dalic remains in charge in four years’ time.