Luka Modrić, the opposite dwelling legend looking for World Cup redemption

AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni couldn’t cover his admiration for the celebrity, the dwelling legend, the icon making an attempt to win his first World Cup in his final match look.

“I have to say it’s such a pleasure to see him play on the pitch — he’s a role model for so many of us not only because of his talents as a player but also his behavior,” Scaloni stated the day earlier than his workforce meets Croatia on Tuesday (2 p.m. ET, FOX and the FOX Sports activities app) with a spot in Sunday’s World Cup ultimate on the road. “We must enjoy him.”

Scaloni wasn’t extolling the virtues of Lionel Messi. He was speaking about Croatia captain Luka Modrić.

A lot of the main target at Qatar 2022 has been on the 35-year-old Messi, for apparent causes. Not almost sufficient consideration has been paid to Modrić, 37, the magical little Actual Madrid midfielder who was former Barcelona idol Messi’s longtime membership rival and the one man apart from Messi or Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo to win the Ballon d’Or award — given to the sport’s finest participant — between 2008-2021.

Modrić led Croatia to the World Cup ultimate 4 years in the past. Now he’s gotten it virtually all the way in which again. 

“Many had already written him off, due to his age,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić stated on Monday. “But he has led us to the semifinals.”

It’s tempting to suppose the journey will finish there. Messi is on a mission to lastly hoist the one trophy he hasn’t, and he lastly has the encompassing workforce to do it. Argentina is the favourite. However Croatia wasn’t supposed to succeed in the ultimate, which it misplaced to France, final time round. Croatia positively wasn’t purported to beat Brazil, FIFA’s top-ranked workforce, in final week’s quarterfinal, but right here it’s. And it has a greater probability than most imagine.

“They are under greater pressure than us,” Dalić stated.

Argentina can even be with out two gamers, Marcos Acuña and Gonzalo Montiel, due to yellow card accumulation. Head-to-head, Croatia has been Argentina’s equal. In six complete matches between the nations, the sequence is evenly cut up. Croatia has gained two of the final three conferences and has outscored Argentina 7-5 of their three earlier World Cup duels, together with a 3-0 pummeling in group play 4 years in the past, the Albiceleste’s most lopsided first spherical defeat since 1958. 

Modrić scored this gem in that match:

Modrić was the undisputed catalyst then. He’s been Croatia’s driving pressure in Qatar, too, even when he has but to register a aim or an help, logging 485 of Croatia’s 510 minutes at this World Cup — together with all 120 towards Brazil. He additionally sank the successful spot kick within the tiebreaker.

What makes Modrić so good is his complete mastery of the ball. It’s virtually unimaginable to dispossess him with out fouling, and he virtually all the time performs the proper move on the good time. Maintaining the rock was essential towards Brazil.

“They’re simply not used to playing against teams that maintain possession,” Dalić stated afterward. The identical applies to Argentina.

Defensively, Modrić’s refined positioning and skill to trace again and break up performs is vastly underappreciated. He’s not flashy. However soccer aficionados like Scaloni can’t assist however drool over his genius. Modrić thinks the sport in addition to anyone. Messi is broadly thought-about the best of all time, however Modrić has a declare as the best of this technology after him and former Actual teammate Ronaldo.

All three have a protracted historical past, and never simply in El Clasico. Modrić made his worldwide debut in 2006 towards Argentina, the identical sport by which Messi notched his first worldwide aim. Tuesday’s contest will mark the primary time the 2 earlier Golden Ball winners (given to the World Cup’s most dear participant) will face off at a subsequent match. It is going to be simply the third assembly between Modrić and Messi whereas sporting their international locations’ colours.

Each males have additionally performed in and misplaced World Cup finals. After these matches, Tuesday’s might be crucial of both’s profession. Neutrals throughout the planet need to see Messi exit on high. Modrić might need one thing to say about that. In any case, his aim isn’t simply to outlive this semifinal.

“He will definitely try to do his best,” Dalić stated, “to win the trophy.”

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Doug McIntyre is a soccer author for FOX Sports activities. Earlier than becoming a member of FOX Sports activities in 2021, he was a workers author with ESPN and Yahoo Sports activities and he has coated United States males’s and ladies’s nationwide groups at a number of FIFA World Cups. Comply with him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre. 

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