Steve Clarke’s Tartan Army will have to think again.
The dream of progressing out of the group stages of a tournament for the first time in 67 years of trying was broken by the genius of Luka Modric.
With the outside of his right boot, he brilliantly caressed a 25 yard curling shot into the top corner, to give Zlatko Dalic’s side the lead after an hour and extinguish any real hope of a Scotland victory.
For now, being at their first finals for 23 years will have to be the first stepping stone of progress for a young and improving squad.
At least Scotland broke their Euro goal duck. Callum McGregor first half strike levelling the game just before half time, and stoking hopes of a winner against the run of play and class on show.
After a Group D campaign that was lethargic, Real Madrid star Modric stepped forward to rekindle the swagger that took the Croats to the World Cup final three years ago.
Stirring patriotism, revved up players and a smattering of top class players from the Premier League could only take the Scots so far.
But it was fun while it lasted, and adding Scottish colour to the World Cup in Qatar is now a must for a side who need a goal-scorer, but will improve.
Appropriately it was the anniversary of the last time Scotland were knocked out of a major tournament, when they were defeated 3-0 to Morocco in France ’98.
Clarke admitted losing creative force Billy Gilmour to Covid was a “shock” but Southampton’s Stuart Armstrong slotted in.
Croatian boss Zlatko Dalic moaned about Scotland having an advantage because of their home crowd, but they were resilient and wily.
The atmosphere generated by just 12,000 Tartan Army was fierce as was a start befitting both nations needing to win to get out of Group D.
Quick out the blocks, John McGinn has a curler tipped wide with Che Adams so close to getting a touch.
But it turned flat after 17 minutes. Ivan Perisic nodded down a cross from Josep Juranovic into the path of former Everton midfielder Nikola Vlasic.
The 23-year-old smashed home left footed on the half volley from 12 yards, hooking it around Scott McTominay’s attempted block.
Croatia were poor against England, sluggish for a half against the Czechs, but were very clearly up for this one.
Sharp in body and mind, and dominating possession, they were in total control for long periods.
Clarke’s men didn’t lie down. John McGinn went close with an under-hit side foot shot. When crosses were launched into their box, Croatia were under pressure and looked vulnerable.
And so it proved, when Juranovic scuffed his clearance to the edge of the box on 42 minutes. Celtic star McGregor snapped up the loose ball, drilling home from 22 yards. It was Scotland’s first of the tournament, the last of the 24 nations to notch.
It set up an all-or-nothing second half tussle which Croatia dominated.
David Marshall dived bravely at the feet of Josco Gvardiol to stop him when clear on goal.
The Derby stopper then denied Perisic from point blank range.
But Perisic finished the tie with a glancing header from Modric’s corner after 77 minutes with his ninth goal in 14 appearances at major finals, and Scotland, in reality, were outclassed.