Expected by fans to reach the World Cup knockout stages for the first time since 1998 when they finished third, the Croatians slumped to 3-1 defeats by Brazil and Mexico which meant another early exit. (Agencies)
An ageing squad in which the evergreen 34-year-old forward Ivica Olic rolled back the years before he ran out of steam during Monday's loss to Mexico could only get so far after a lifeline 4-0 win over insipid Cameroon.
Many of Croatia's shortcomings are rooted in a poor domestic league with talents like Dinamo Zagreb's Alen Halilovic moving to greener pastures after barely tasting first-team football.
Fringe midfielder Marcelo Brozovic and unused third-choice goalkeeper Oliver Zelenika were the only home-based players in the squad whose limited ability was obvious against the Brazilians and Mexicans.
Chinks in the armour could not be papered over by the talent of playmaker Luka Modric and striker Mario Mandzukic's scoring prowess with the left back position remaining a glaring weakness.
Novice coach Niko Kovac did what he could. He chopped, changed and reshuffled in a bid to outmuscle the more skilful and faster Mexicans but came up short after his team were simply played off the park in Recife.
The 42-year-old former international midfielder acknowledged that advancing deep into the tournament in Brazil was always going to be a tall order for Croatia.
"We played nice football, maybe not as much going forward as in the first two matches," he said.
"That's life. Life goes on, thank you and goodbye,” he added.
Having steadied the ship after taking over from the sacked Igor Stimac to reach the finals with a 2-0 aggregate playoff win over Iceland, Kovac now faces the task of qualifying for Euro 2016 with a largely unchanged squad.
Reinvigorating a team is never an easy task under pressure to deliver and with the 18-year old Halilovic off to Barcelona's B team from Dinamo Zagreb, Kovac faces a tough challenge.
Asked if he will carry on, Kovac said: "Why not? We qualified and that was a success for us. I have a contract and it will continue. I don't see any reason why it shouldn't. I said before this was a tough group, it went to the wire.”
"We have a quality team, we're going to analyse what we lacked and we will improve on that. I think we've made good progress over the past six months but this process of development should continue,” he added.
Expected by fans to reach the World Cup knockout stages for the first time since 1998 when they finished third, the Croatians slumped to 3-1 defeats by Brazil and Mexico which meant another early exit.