By 90Min
June 20, 2018

Croatian midfielder Milan Badelj is refusing to back his international team-mate Nikola Kalinic after a substitution debacle that saw him sent home early from the World Cup.

The incident occurred during Croatia’s opening day 2-0 victory over Nigeria, a game which Kalinic began on the bench. The striker was warming up in the second half when manager Zlatko Dalic called on him to replace Mario Mandzukic for the closing stages of the game.

But Kalinic refused to take the field, claiming he wasn’t fully fit due to a mysterious back injury. Kalinic pulled a similar tack in one of Croatia’s warm-up games against Brazil stating the same reason for his refusal to play.

Dalic has taken action, sending the forward home and releasing a statement that he needs all of his players fit and firing in the squad. There is certainly a suggestion though that Kalinic has been feigning injury and has been dismissed as a disciplinary measure.

Croatia will be unable to replace the striker who has 15 goals in 41 internationals in accordance with FIFA regulations. It means they’ll be at a disadvantage as they will have to play the rest of the tournament with just 22 players.

It’s a big blow for the Croatians but Kalinic’s international team-mate Badelj has shown his support for Dalic’s decision, with the midfielder quoted by Football Italia as saying:

“The first thing is the team, you have to put your ego to one side when you talk about your national team. The important thing that we maintain unity and a good atmosphere in the dressing room.”

James Williamson - AMA/GettyImages

Badelj also plays with Kalinic at club level for Serie A side Fiorentina, although the striker was loaned out to  AC Milan last season. The duo have a good working relationship but Badelj does not support his team mate’s attitude, claiming it’s even more significant for him to keep his head at international level.

“The same respect is needed at club level, but it’s needed even more at international level because it’s a more specific situation and we’re not here as much.” Badelj continued. 

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