Croatia’s World Cup ended in heartbreak, as a surprise run to the final saw them finish as beaten finalists.
But the momentum of that unexpected finals appearance has spurred some of their players on – not least star man Luka Modric, the man who won the Golden Ball in Russia and has since gone on to pick up more awards.
Ivan Rakitic and Ante Rebic, two of the other architects of Croatia’s passage through the tournament, have also been in excellent form since the summer.
Here’s a look at how all three have fared.
Key passes: 14
From an individual standpoint, Modric has been doing quite well for himself since winning the Golden Ball at the World Cup. Since then, he’s been named the Best Men’s Player of the Year by both UEFA and FIFA, and he’s the favourite to win the Ballon d’Or.
However, he hasn’t been at his very best on the pitch and his club team is suffering. Real Madrid have lost three times already this season, four if you count the UEFA Super Cup, and they’re in the middle of a four-game winless and goalless run. Modric will hope his time with the national team rejuvenates him.
While team-mate Modric has been receiving all the accolades, Rakitic has gone about his business with typical aplomb, emerging from a World Cup campaign where he was one of the best players.
He’s been in excellent form for Eintracht Frankfurt despite his sending off in their most recent game – though not before scoring a goal.
Out of form and regularly conceding goals, Iceland were expected to lose against the World Cup champions, but strikes either side of half-time from Birkir Bjarnason and Kari Arnason put France on the back foot and in danger of a 2-0 loss.
Les Bleus fought back, however, to level the game at the Stade du Roudourou in Guingamp thanks to an 86th-minute own goal by Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson and a last-gasp penalty from substitute Kylian Mbappe.
Deschamps acknowledged his team had got off to a bad start, with Iceland’s organisation seemingly catching them off-guard.
Quoted on the team’s official website, he said: “We started badly in this match, there was a problem with our attitude.
“We were a little too relaxed in front of a well-organised team that played well against us.
“But as soon as we found a little more rhythm, more density, more races forward, we hurt more, but we’re not going to worry.”
Dimitri Payet, Thomas Lemar and Mbappe were among those introduced from the bench but Deschamps maintained he had chosen the right squad.
“It was logical to give playing time to other players, there are two matches,” he added.
On the back of a 6-0 defeat against Switzerland and a 3-0 loss to Belgium, Iceland manager Erik Hamren remained optimistic despite the setback in clinching his first victory.
Quoted on Icelandic site Visir, he said after the match: “I’m proud of the team. We had talked about having a better attitude, tried to work on the defence, we needed to improve after Switzerland and Belgium, the attitude was fantastic to see.
“This is what I wanted to see in our team. Iceland has done it against good teams before and I wanted to see it myself. Now we know what to do – I hope this continues, especially the attitude that the players showed tonight.”
Gareth Bale looks set to miss Wales’ Nations League clash with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin next Tuesday.
The Real Madrid star sat out a 4-1 friendly defeat at the hands of a ruthless Spain team due to what Wales manager Ryan Giggs described as “muscle fatigue.”
And Giggs has admitted he is unlikely to have him back in the mix when Wales look to dust themselves down from a Principality Stadium pummelling.
“Gareth is struggling for Tuesday,” Giggs said.
“Ethan (Ampadu) just extended his knee a little bit in the second half, and we will assess it and see how it is, and Chris Mepham got a little knock in training yesterday.
“We will take care of the lads the best we can over the next couple of days and get ready for Tuesday.
“We will make a decision (on Bale) in the next couple of days. We will make it sooner, rather than later.”
Asked if it looked at the moment that Wales would be without their headline performer, Giggs said: “Yes, it does.”
Luis Enrique’s stylish side strolled to an emphatic victory ahead of tackling Nations League opponents England in Seville in four days’ time after Paco Alcacer, with a brace, and Sergio Ramos scored inside 29 minutes, before substitute Marc Bartra added a fourth.
Sam Vokes headed a consolation a minute from time, but it was a sobering evening for Giggs’ side prior to tackling Ireland as they suffered a heaviest defeat since a 6-1 thrashing away to Serbia in 2012.
“It is disappointing,” Giggs added. “Against average teams you have to do the basics right. Against a very good team, if you don’t do the basics, you get punished, and that’s what happened.
“The build-up was magnificent. Coming into the stadium on the coach (it was Wales’ first game at the Prinicpality Stadium for seven years), you could feel the buzz and it’s something different. Unfortunately, we couldn’t perform on the pitch, which is obviously disappointing.
“We brush ourselves down, take it on the chin. The last time we were in Cardiff we won 4-1 and were magnificent. Tonight, we were disappointing.
“The good thing about football is you have always got the next game, and that can’t come quickly enough.
“We got taught a lesson in many aspects, but the main thing we were taught tonight was to do the basics right.
“You have to give them (Spain) credit. They are fantastic players, they are all playing at the top level, and they showed that tonight. It was a lesson for us, it was a lesson for a lot of the players, and one that we will learn from.
“We will be better on Tuesday.”
It was a third successive victory for Spain under Enrique – they have also scored 12 goals in that time – and he said: “The team were very involved from the first minute and had an almost perfect attitude.
“Yes, there are (selection) clues (for the England game) in terms of those who have not played tonight, but you won’t be able to guess more than four or five (of the team).
“It was an intense game tonight, and I loved watching my team.
“Their attitude lasted 90 minutes and we went into the game looking to create chances, put Wales under pressure and to prevent them from coming out, and it went well.”