Scotland had waited 23 years to be back at a major tournament and, in the end, their spell away from the big stage showed here last night.
Everything was on the line going into this match, with both sides knowing they could get out of Group D and into the last 16 with a victory.
Scotland had 12,000 fans at Hampden Park, plus the rest of the nation behind them, but it was Croatia's experience and quality that made the difference.
After an hour, the two sides could not be separated, Nikola Vlasic's 17th-minute opener having been cancelled out by Callum McGregor just before half-time.
But then Croatia went through the gears, as Luka Modric bent one into the top corner with the outside of his right foot. Fifteen minutes later, the former Ballon d'Or winner planted a corner straight onto Ivan Perisic's head to secure a 3-1 victory.
"The lads are shattered, we put so much into it," said McGregor. "Too much quality in the end — the second goal, that's what we're up against at this level."
This was a painful lesson for Scotland — and even more so given the euphoria after their draw with England at Wembley on Friday.
Croatia, however, taught them it is moments of quality — and specifically taking your chances — that matter most at this level.
Before Modric staked his claim for goal of the tournament, Scotland were well set in this game, just as they were against the Czech Republic and England.
But they failed to take their chances and, ultimately, they were punished to the extent they are out of Euro 2020 having come bottom of Group D with just one point to their name.
"What you saw from Croatia tonight was third-game experience," said head coach Steve Clarke. "They knew how to play the third game in a tournament and they were more ready for it than we were.
"We possibly couldn't hit the levels we hit on Friday against England. There is lots to learn for everybody, the head coach included."
Truth be told, we should perhaps not be surprised Scotland's Euro 2020 journey has ended like this. Critics will point to the fact Clarke's side had two games at home and secured no wins, but this was their first tournament for 23 years and that lack of experience cannot be overlooked during the post-mortem. The squad, however, will be stronger for the lessons they have learned and there is certainly cause for optimism going forward.
The current crop of players have their best years ahead of them, with key men such as Andy Robertson, John McGinn, Kieran Tierney and Scott McTominay all in their early or mid-20s.
Youngsters such as Billy Gilmour are emerging, too, and you feel that they could be ready to shine if Scotland qualify for the World Cup in Qatar next year.
"We are a squad with a lot of potential and it's important we build on this," said Robertson. "We're a good team on our day. We can't go another 23 years [until we play at a major tournament]."
"We're one of the newbies to this, it's been a long time coming and all of us will gain experience. We've felt the love from the whole country and we hope it continues."