Croatia went all the way to the World Cup final with a gifted team led by Luka Modric, but many players are in the twilight of their career and it is not clear if coach Zlatko Dalic will stay on.
Moscow (dpa) - Croatia can expect a heroes' welcome when they return home later Monday despite losing the World Cup final to France, but the future looks uncertain for the team.
Playmaker Luka Modric of Real Madrid may have well been in his last World Cup at age 32, Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic is 34, and Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic (30) and Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic (32) are also approaching the twilight of their career.
"I wish we were all 24 now. Everyone and Luka especially," defender Dejan Lovren, 29, said.
It is also not clear whether Zlatko Dalic will stay on as coach after the dream run into the Moscow final, where his team ran out of steam and lost 4-2.
"What I am ready to do now is rest. It has been a very tough period but also a great time. I will take a breather. I never make immediate decisions," Dalic said.
Dalic took the Croatia hot seat in October ahead of the last qualifier in Ukraine, where the team needed a result to have a chance of making Russia. They won and then brushed aside Greece in a play-ff to qualify.
The 51-year-old has received plenty of praise for leading the team to the final, with Modric winning the Golden Ball award as the best player of the tournament.
Dalic said that "it was always my dream to be Croatia national team coach" but he could seek another job abroad, saying that Croatian coaches are still not really recognized outside the country.
However, Dalic could follow a trend of former Croatia coaches, with Slaven Bilic having taken charge of West Ham United from 2015-2017 and Niko Kovac the new coach at European top club Bayern Munich after leading Eintracht Frankfurt to the German Cup.
"I used to say: Give me Real Madrid or Barcelona and I will win titles," Dalic revealed last week.
He has coached abroad in the past, in places like the Middle East, but that has never bothered him.
"I always did it the hard way. I did not want to stay in Croatia and be a middling coach and live off handouts," he said.
Dalic has received plenty of of praise from the players for his coaching style - which included sending defender Nikola Kalinic home after he again refused to come off the bench, complaining of a back problem in the first group game against Nigeria.
"Zlatko has shown confidence in us from the start when others didn't. That is the secret behind our success," Liverpool's Lovren said.
"If he could, he would not sleep at all to make sure that the team is prepared."
Whether he will stay on, however, remains to be seen, with the inaugural Nations League starting in autumn and qualifying for Euro 2020 next year, as Croatia face rebuilding at some stage.
But first comes the big welcome-back at home after the team went one place better than the class of 1998.