Following the euphoria of victory over Scotland, Chris Coleman, the Wales manager, saw his men quickly crash back down to earth after this comprehensive defeat last night.
A month on from the 6-1 humiliation to Croatia's Balkan neighbours Serbia, a similar result could have been seen as the Dragons were outpassed, outplayed and outclassed once again by their Group A rivals.
But Coleman refused to give up hope on World Cup qualification. He said: "We've had very tough games. Even Scotland was tough. I feel better tonight than after Serbia. We showed a lot of passion and heart and we had to in order to stay in the game."
Bayern Munich's Mario Mandzukic capitalised in the 27th minute on a double error by Ashley Williams and Lewis Price to put Igor Stimac's men ahead. And any Welsh hopes of being bailed out again by Gareth Bale, just four days after the Tottenham winger destroyed the Scots, were ended by Eduardo da Silva's close-range finish on 58 minutes. This defeat in Osijek – just 70 miles from the site of Wales' Serbian nightmare in Novi Sad – leaves Coleman's team already seven points adrift in Group A and their World Cup qualification hopes fading away after just four matches.
Croatia had lost just one of their previous 46 competitive home games, courtesy of a Theo Walcott hat-trick in a 4-1 thumping by England, and they showed why last night with a scarcely believable 29 attempts on goal.
Prior to kick-off Coleman had expressed concern at the state of the pitch, claiming parts were unplayable following a day of torrential rain. Despite the uneven surface, though, Croatia dominated the early proceedings, with Luka Modric pulling the strings in midfield.
The Wales goalkeeper Price tipped a 25-yard free-kick from the home captain Darijo Srna around the post before the hosts had a penalty shout waved away in the 14th minute.
Wales finally mustered an attack of their own in the 20th minute – and it was little surprise where the threat came from. Bale cut inside Ivan Perisic on the right flank, but shot wide of Stipe Peltikosa's right-hand post.
That proved only brief respite for Coleman's defence as Milan Badelj was next to test the Crystal Palace keeper Price. For all Croatia's possession and chances, though, it was two poor defensive errors which led to the opener on 27 minutes. In the heavy conditions, the Wales captain Williams played an underhit back pass and Price's clearance was charged down by Mandzukic, who slotted home into an empty net.
That costly and ungainly mistake was not the first of its kind by the Swansea City defender this season and it put the Red Dragons on the back foot.
Coleman added: "We made one mistake and got punished. We have to cut that out, those mistakes and give ourselves a chance."
Price once again came to Wales' rescue when he produced a fine reflex save to deny Eduardo following a dangerous right-wing cross from Srna.
It was one-way traffic after the interval as Price parried Eduardo's left-footed drive then heroically saved with his legs to stop Mandzukic scoring a second time.But there was only so much Wales' last line of defence could do when Croatia doubled the lead on 58 minutes.
Srna delivered a corner from the right, Price saved Perisic's header, but Eduardo was on hand and effortlessly tucked home the rebound.
Before Eduardo crashed the bar, Andy King had Wales' first shot on target with 23 minutes remaining, heading Joe Allen's centre straight at Pletikosa, which completed the misery.
Man of the match Modric.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee A Tudor (Rom).