Ryan Giggs described Wales’ Euro 2020 qualifying defeat to Croatia as “one that got away” after his side failed to take late chances in Osijek.
Wales went down 2-1 in searing temperatures after the World Cup finalists had dominated the opening hour to lead through a James Lawrence own goal and an Ivan Perisic strike at the start of the second half.
But Wales rallied in the final half-hour and substitute David Brooks gave them hope 13 minutes from time with a deflected drive.
Brooks and Gareth Bale then had chances to equalise in the closing stages and snatch an unlikely point, but Croatia held on to leapfrog Wales in Group E.
“I’m obviously disappointed not to get something out of the game with the chances we had,” Giggs said.
“We had so many good chances and we didn’t manage to put them away. We didn’t really play well and gave away two poor goals.
“When you don’t play like you can do and still create chances against this top team, it’s disappointing.
“I said to the players, we’ve missed a chance, especially with the way we ended the game, we ended so strong.
“We looked the fitter side at the end. We looked like the ones pushing and it looked like Croatia were hanging on.
“When you end the game like that, you’ve got to be disappointed and it’s definitely one that got away.”
Brooks, who missed out on a starting spot after injury, made an impact in the final 25 minutes as players began to toil in the 30-degree heat.
The Bournemouth forward scored his first international goal and is in contention to start against Hungary in Budapest on Tuesday.
“He’s only trained two days and missed the last few games for Bournemouth,” said Giggs, explaining Brooks’ omission.
“He scored the goal and looked lively when he came on, but he couldn’t have started the game because he’s only done two days and you saw the conditions and we have other players fit.
“We have a game on Tuesday as well, so they’re the reasons really.
“It was difficult leaving him on the bench, but it was the right thing to do.
“But he is in the reckoning for Tuesday and I would imagine there will be changes.”
Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic felt the hot conditions actually worked against his side.
Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric dictated the tempo in the opening hour, but the game became an end-to-end exercise in the final 30 minutes.
“It was a very tough game,” Dalic said. “We started well as planned, but the heat and the conditions killed us.
“Every time a player went to sprint, they had to take a rest.
“Wales played well, but the only important thing for us was the win and the three points which we wanted.
“It is going to be difficult for us, but we know we are still the favourites in this group.
“We are aiming for first place and I think Wales and Slovakia are the best candidates for second.”
Wales suffered a Euro 2020 setback as Croatia beat them 2-1 on a scorching afternoon in Osijek.
A 17th-minute James Lawrence own goal and an Ivan Perisic strike at the start of the second half sealed Wales’ fate on a day when Croatia were too hot to handle.
Substitute David Brooks gave Wales a lifeline 13 minutes from time with a deflected drive and the Bournemouth forward almost equalised in the final seconds to snatch an unlikely point.
The temperature gauge was touching 30 degrees at kick-off and the two teams took water breaks at the midway point of the first and second periods.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic had expressed his displeasure with the afternoon kick-off, claiming UEFA had disrespected his World Cup finalists by not staging the game in the evening.
It was, however, always Wales who were likely to be punished by the 3pm kick-off time given Croatia’s capacity to keep possession and force their opponents to expend energy chasing the ball.
Luka Modric might be a few months shy of his 34th birthday, but Wales regularly struggled to get near the Real Madrid craftsman, who dictated the tempo of the contest.
The size of Wales’ task was reflected by Croatia’s daunting home record.
The World Cup finalists had never lost a Euro qualifier at home, a 32-game run stretching back to their first match in the competition in 1994, and had not been beaten at home for six years.
Croatia were also unbeaten in 11 games in Osijek, an inhospitable venue where Wales had previously succumbed in 2010 and 2013.
Wales made one change from the side which got their Euro 2020 campaign off to a winning start in March.
Rotherham midfielder Will Vaulks came in for his first competitive start as Manchester United-bound winger Daniel James, who had scored the winner against Slovakia, provided pace in the Wales attack alongside Gareth Bale.
Croatia dominated the early exchanges with their slick passing and Chris Mepham had to react quickly to snuff out Andrej Kramaric.
Perisic also fired over before a brilliant bit of quick thinking from Gareth Bale almost caught Croatia napping.
Bale sent a quick long throw over the head of Dejan Lovren and on to the left foot of Harry Wilson.
The ball sat up nicely for Wilson to volley but the effort lacked power and was easily collected by Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
It was to prove a costly miss as Modric soon picked out Perisic with a delightful pass, which Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey chose not to come for and retreat instead towards his goal.
Perisic’s pass was aimed for the lurking Kramaric, but Lawrence intervened to roll the ball into his own net.
Wales had been almost non-existent as an attacking force in the first half, but they managed to involve James just before the break.
He sent over a deep cross which Wilson placed into the path of Vaulks to drive at goal. Livakovic failed to hold Vaulks’ effort and then clawed it back in as Ben Davies almost bundled in the rebound.
Croatia made a fast start to the second half and doubled their lead after 48 minutes.
The Wales defence was all over the place after possession was conceded just outside their penalty area and Perisic swept home after Connor Roberts had failed to clear at the far post.
Croatia had been denied a second moments earlier when Hennessey saved from Josip Brekalo and Mateo Kovacic’s follow-up effort was ruled out for offside.
Bale brought two saves from Livakovic as Wales gambled by pushing men forward and Brooks gave them hope 13 minutes from time with his first international goal.
That set up a thrilling conclusion with chances at both ends, but Croatia held on to take top spot in Group E.
Liverpool pair Alisson and Roberto Firmino are back in contention for a place in the Brazil side for their final Copa America warm-up match against Honduras on Sunday.
The Champions League-winning pair joined up with the squad on Friday to increase the options of Brazil coach Tite, who also has Chelsea star Willian available.
Their arrival represents a timely boost to the camp after Neymar was ruled out of the tournament with an ankle ligament injury suffered in the recent win over Qatar.
The absence of the Paris Saint-Germain striker prompted Tite to turn to Willian over other popular choices, most notably Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr.
Tite is not expected to play his full first-choice starting line-up against Honduras, although Alisson is in line to replace Manchester City number one Ederson.
Firmino is likely to be given more time to bed in with the squad, meaning another start for another City player, Gabriel Jesus, who scored the second goal in the 2-0 win over Qatar.
Brazil, who kick off their Copa America campaign against Bolivia in Sao Paolo on Friday, will look to enhance their status as tournament favourites following their relatively low-key win over the Qataris.
New Honduras coach Fabian Coito is looking for improvement from his side as they build up towards their own Gold Cup campaign.
Successive draws against Ecuador and Paraguay have increased positivity in the Honduran camp, as has a favourable Gold Cup draw which pits them against Jamaica, El Salvador and Curacao.