Luka Modric and his Croatia team-mates were given a rapturous welcome home after their World Cup mission had come up just short.
Zlatko Dalic’s men lost 4-2 to France in an eventful final at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday after key decisions went against them.
But having gone one better than they did in France 20 years earlier, when they finished third, they were greeted as heroes on their return.
The squad flew back to Zagreb on Monday and left their plane to a red carpet welcome before boarding an open-top bus to travel into the city, where thousands of fans had gathered in Ban Jelacic Square to welcome them home.
Such was the size and the warmth of the reaction that midfielder Ivan Rakitic tweeted: “There are no words to describe this. We are proud to defend Croatia colours.”
The Croatian Football Federation posted a series of photographs of the crowds on its official Twitter account, adding the message: “Night falls in Zagreb. Croatia still celebrates.”
Croatia, which has a population of around 4.1million, won all three of their group games, including a 3-0 victory over Argentina, and fought back from losing positions in the knockout stages against Denmark, Russia and England to make it to the final.
They did so once again in the final as Ivan Perisic cancelled out Mario Mandzukic’s own goal, but Antoine Griezmann’s controversially-awarded penalty and further goals from Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe ensured Mandzukic’s late strike counted for little.
Nevertheless, they left Russia having significantly enhanced their reputation and with captain Modric having added the Golden Ball for the tournament’s best player to his runner-up medal.