ᑕ❶ᑐ World Cup 2022: Can Modric inspire another ‘unforgettable’ Croatia chapter?

Host country: Qatar Destination: November 20 – December 18 Cover: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Daily TV programsFull coverage details

Luka Modric is more than just a playmaker for Croatia.

The Real Madrid midfielder led his country to the final of the 2018 World Cup and now, with a quarter-final against favorites Brazil looming on Friday, he has ambitions to emulate that feat – and it may not be his last attempt at the big competition. tournament. international cup.

At 37, he remains more important than ever for Croatia. A key figure behind his team’s attacking approach, his influence is just as important off the pitch, acting as a father figure to a new generation of young players.

In the Fifa Captains documentary series, he motivates Dinamo Zagreb and Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.

“Why can’t you make a mistake?” Croatian captain Modric asks Livakovic in the hotel lobby. “Everybody does. I think your problem is that you are afraid to do them. »

Fast forward to Monday’s round of 16 match against Japan and Livakovic was the hero when he saved three penalties in the shootout after playing a starring role to send Croatia through to the quarter-finals.

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“The best Croatian player of all time”

The World Cup in Qatar is often described as Modric’s swan song, but it remains unclear whether he will continue with the national team after the tournament, with Euro 2024 remaining a distinct possibility for him.

Modric, who made 159 appearances last season and led Real Madrid to their 14th Champions League win, made his debut in a friendly against Argentina in March 2006 and never looked back.

“Luka is the best Croatian player of all time,” said former Croatian midfielder Nenad Bjelica. “Of course, if he can give advice to young players, he will.

“His words are very important for every player. On the field, he is very important because of his leadership and character. Maybe he doesn’t play at the highest level, but he still plays very well. He is a great leader of this team. »

Croatia have not always impressed in this tournament, but Bjelica, who heads into Friday’s quarter-final against Brazil, is confident Croatia can cause an upset.

“We don’t have such a big team [compared to Brazil]it’s a bit problematic,” he said. “In Brazil’s last group match against Cameroon, there was a chance to give other players a chance and rest key players. We were not so lucky.

“Our best players should always play. The last game against Japan was not perfect because our team looks a bit tired. Our best and most important players like it [Marcelo] Brozovic, Modric and [Mateo] Kovacic is showing it, but that’s normal because they had to play four games under a lot of pressure to win these games.

“Now we have no more pressure. Our expectation was to get out of the group and we achieved it. [Against Brazil] It’s a big game for us. We have expectations because we have a good team. We can take advantage of that and I think we have enough quality to surprise them. »

Modric’s last dance?

If Croatia beat Brazil on Friday (15:00 GMT), it will be another memorable chapter in Modric’s international career.

“I think 2018 was his “last dance”. This is simply the main asset that shows his incredible longevity,” said Telesport journalist Juraj Vrdoljak. “The team is now a bit different from the 2018 World Cup, the fatigue of 2018 is long gone.

“The people who supported the team reached the peak at that time, and with this silver medal, the dream scenario of this “golden generation” was practically achieved.

“Now the expectations have come true. Miraculously, we are in the quarter-finals again. So a new chapter opens. »

After the 2018 World Cup, head coach Zlatko Dalic saw some of his most experienced players end their international careers – one of whom is now his assistant, former striker Mario Mandzukic.

“We’ve changed a lot in the last four or six years,” Bjelica said. “Now we have senators like Modric, Ivan Perisic, Domagoy Vida, Dejan Lovren. They are very important for the team, they have experience.

“But we have young players like us [Josko] Guardiol, Josip Sutalo, Martin Erlic, Lovro Majer and Josip Stanisic. This generational change went smoothly because we were successful.

“As for the future, there is no need to worry. When Modric or Lovren are not in the national team, I think we will have players to replace them. »

Still, 20-year-old RB Leipzig central defender Guardiol is the poster child of a new generation.

In October 2019, Bjelica became head coach of Dinamo Zagreb and made his league debut for Guardiol at the age of 17. The defender then moved to Germany for €16m (€14m) in 2020 and has recently been linked with Chelsea and Real Madrid.

“He is a very good boy, hardworking and focused on football,” Bjelica said. “It’s no surprise to me how he’s developed in recent years because he’s got a lot of character.

“The way he’s developing, I think he won’t be in Leipzig for a long time. I am sure that this will be the biggest transfer of a Croatian football player in history. »

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