LIVERPOOL star Joe Allen admits he and Wales were taught a footballing lesson in Croatia on Tuesday.
The £15m midfielder was overshadowed by former Tottenham playmaker Luka Modric as the hosts cruised to a 2-0 victory that ended any realistic hopes of Wales qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Allen believes there are positives for Wales to take having avoided the kind of mauling they suffered on their last visit to the Balkans – a 6-1 hammering in Serbia last month.
But he pulled no punches in a brutally honest assessment of his own display in comparison to a magical Modric performance.
"Modric is a great player and you want to test yourself against those types of players," said the 22-year-old. "For me personally it was disappointing because I felt he controlled the game and looked comfortable throughout.
"You always want to make it as difficult as possible for your opponents and, if I’m honest, I think my level of performance just wasn’t quite good enough.
"He’s a top, top player, he plays for one of the best clubs in the world and I think in his position he’s one of the very best.
"I think it showed that I’ve probably got quite a lot of work to do if I’m going to get anywhere near his level."
Victory over Scotland last week raised brief hopes that Wales could still challenge for a place in Brazil but they are now seven points behind the Croats and group leaders Belgium.
That means qualification is extremely unlikely but Allen was pleased that the team had at least improved since the debacle in Serbia.
"Credit to the team, I think the performance levels were much, much better against Scotland and Croatia and I think we can take positives from both games," he said.
"The performance was the big thing over these two games. We had to right the wrong of Serbia, which stands out as a bad night for Welsh football.
"It’s a tough place to come against a strong European team with top players. It’s always disappointing to lose any match but the level of their performance made it tough for us."
And the ex-Swansea City star is not yet ready to completely write off this campaign with a trip to Scotland next up in March.
"We knew after losing the first two games it was always going to be tough and we had a lot of catching up to do," he said.
"There’s no hiding from that but, while there’s still a chance, we’ll keep fighting and we go into the next games looking to pick up points."
Manager Chris Coleman is also remaining optimistic.
He said: "We have six games left and everybody is going to be taking points off each other, especially at home. So you never say never.
"But it was always going to be difficult from the start. We have lost to Belgium, Serbia away and Croatia away. They are three very tough games, and even Scotland at home is a tough game.’’