Tuesday , July 23 2024
Modric

The Luka Modric moment that might have knocked Croatia out of Euro 2024

Luka Modric was awarded man of the match but his glaring absence from the final minutes of Croatia’s dramatic draw with Italy left a void.

Luka Modric is accustomed to receiving individual accolades in the depths of disappointment. After the 2018 World Cup final, he learnt he had got the Golden Ball for the tournament. As it seemed Croatia had been ejected from Euro 2024 by the last kick of a game, a seminal victory turned into a seismic blow. Mattia Zaccagni’s 98th-minute goal had barely curled in when the final whistle blew; perhaps on a tournament career for Modric that dates back to the 2006 World Cup.

It is safe to assume it was of scant consolation that he was promptly named man of the match. He had a record to accompany an award; the oldest scorer ever in a European Championship – at least until Cristiano Ronaldo strikes – is Modric, three months away from his 39th birthday. His final contribution to the competition, however, may have come as his prize was announced: applauding the bank of Croatia fans in Leipzig. It may be premature to call it a valedictory salute; partly because there is still a combination of results that can send Croatia through, partly because it is dangerous to assume Modric will retire from international duty.

Yet if that was the end on such a stage, what a way to go. He was valiant but in vain. It was a horribly cruel conclusion; Modric was a spectator when Zaccagni went for the spectacular. Removing him felt like a gamble that backfired from manager Zlatko Dalic; he seemed to be saving Modric for a last-16 tie with Switzerland that Italy will now contest, imagining his captain was the match-winner. “I didn’t want to necessarily waste him for more minutes,” he said. “I wanted to give him the opportunity to rest up. He wasn’t in any way tired. I wanted to bring on someone fresher for the last 10 or 15 minutes because Luka had given everything.”

That is almost an understatement. It was both a classic Modric performance and something very different, the kind of tour de force that stems from a ferocious sense of competitiveness. The slight figure has not reached and sustained such heights for so long due to elegance in possession alone. Take the moment when Gianluigi Donnarumma had to parry a menacing low cross from the right: because of an overlapping run from the oldest man on the pitch.

Or, after a quarter of an hour, when Modric dispossessed Lorenzo Pellegrini on the left touchline and hared off down it, becoming the most advanced Croatian on the pitch, looking to power clear. He did not quite succeed but the aged metronome was seeking to reinvent himself as a midfield dynamo.

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