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Croatia's road to the World Cup final filled with controversy and scandal

The four years since Croatia's last World Cup campaign have been fraught with controversy, scandal and disappointment. Here are 10 of the key incidents in the country's rollercoaster ride to the final at Russia 2018.

June 23, 2014

A desperately disappointing World Cup campaign in Brazil saw Croatia exit at the group stage following two defeats in three games, their fate confirmed by a 3-1 defeat to Mexico. "In the end we couldn't spring a surprise, but life goes on," then-coach Niko Kovac said.

Nov. 16, 2014

A Euro 2016 qualifier vs. Italy was thrown into chaos when flares were launched onto the pitch in Milan by visiting fans and disturbances broke out in the stands. The players were taken off the field twice; Kovac said he felt "ashamed."

As with a number of previous and subsequent incidents, the suggestion was that the fans' actions were a statement of protest against the Croatian Football Federation, which was fined £63,000 and ordered to close 8,000 seats at their home qualifier with Norway in March.

March 28, 2015

However, reduced capacity did not stave off problems at the Norway game, where racist chants were heard from Croatia fans at Maksimir Stadion and Croatia were duly ordered to play their upcoming home match with Italy behind closed doors.

June 12, 2015

During the first half of the Italy game, the marking of a swastika symbol was clearly visible on the Stadion Poljud pitch.

"This is a sabotage and a felony," a spokesman from the Croatian Football Federation said at the time. UEFA subsequently fined the federation £70,000, deducted a point from their qualifying campaign and ordered them to play their next two games in an empty stadium.

Sept. 9, 2015

Kovac was sacked after a 2-0 defeat to Norway, which left Croatia third in their Euro 2016 qualifying group. Within days, he was replaced by Ante Cacic, after which results picked up in and Croatia made it to France for Euro 2016.

June 17, 2016

More dissent toward the Croatian federation took place during a group game against Czech Republic in Saint-Etienne. In the match's latter stages, flares were thrown and Croatia supporters attacked one another; play was halted and a tannoy appeal was made by a Croatian-speaking announcer for fans not to "embarrass our country." 

The team conceded a late equaliser and Cacic later said of the troublemakers, "They are not Croatian fans, they are terrorists." Another fine, this time of £77,000, was levied; Croatia eventually exited the tournament after a 1-0 round-of-16 defeat to Portugal.

Oct. 7, 2017

A run of poor World Cup qualifying results -- four points from as many games -- saw the unpopular Cacic sacked after a 1-1 draw with Finland and just before a decisive final match in Ukraine. He was swiftly replaced by Zlatko Dalic, who had been working away from the spotlight as manager of Al-Ain in United Arab Emirates.

Dalic initially took over without a contract and was charged with making sure Croatia at least reached the playoff stage. Two Andrej Kramaric goals did the job in Kiev and, eventually, Croatia sailed past Greece in a two-legged tie to reach the 2018 World Cup.

March 2, 2018

Luka Modric, Croatia's captain, was charged with perjury by the country's authorities. The charge related to allegedly false statements in the tax fraud trial of former Dinamo Zagreb chief executive Zdravko Mamic.

Modric had said he "could not remember" the details of a contract he signed with Mamic, who made deals with players that saw him take a cut of their transfer fees and subsequent earnings when they joined another club.

Mamic was accused of inserting these clauses after the transfers had actually taken place; Modric claimed they were already in place before he joined Tottenham from Dinamo but that was thought to contradict his earlier statements.

Modric faces five years in jail if found guilty and the situation harmed his reputation in Croatia.

June 18, 2018

A good start to the World Cup was marred when striker Nikola Kalinic, who had refused to come on as a substitute during the 2-0 victory over Nigeria, was sent home by Dalic.

The Milan striker claimed to have a back injury. "I need my players fit and ready to play," said Dalic, who refused to elaborate on the incident. Croatia would continue their campaign with 22 players.

July 9, 2018

Ognjen Vukojevic, one of Croatia's assistant coaches, was sacked for posting a politically-charged video on social media after the quarterfinal victory over Russia.

Vukojevic had posed with centre-back Domadoj Vida for a broadcast in which Vida shouted "Glory to Ukraine, which was viewed as provocative giving the ongoing tensions between Ukraine and the World Cup hosts.

Both Vida, who later apologised after being warned by FIFA, and Vukojevic previously played for Dynamo Kiev, while Vukojevic is now a scout for the club. They stressed afterward that no political connotations were intended.

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