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Modric debuted for Croatia against Argentina: 160 games later, the circle is closing and the ‘pumas’ are his opponents again

Luka Modric has two wins in two games against Argentina, most recently at the World Cup in Russia four years ago, even scoring one of the goals.

Luka Modric has reached 37, but he’s not showing his age. The Croatia captain is on the verge of leading his national team to a second consecutive World Cup final, having knocked out Brazil in the quarter-finals, and has just one more hurdle to the final: the semi-final against Argentina.

Best on the pitch with Brazil

He played 99 minutes against Japan. Against Brazil, Zlatko Dalic kept Modric on the pitch for the entire match: 120 minutes and until the penalty shootout, where he was one of four Croatian players to convert penalties and sink the hearts of the Brazilians.

Modric was all over the place in the match against the national team. His 140 touches were the most of any player on the pitch. He pounced on loose balls with great positioning, was available as an outlet whenever the team needed one, played vertical passes, had neat touches on the ball, blocked shots in the box, and was even important in snuffing out Neymar’s line-breaking runs.

But despite playing a good game throughout, where he really stood out was in extra time, where his cool blood kept Croatia’s build-up composed. He dropped into a deep-lying play-making role and started to dictate the tempo as Brazil struggled to hold possession as they hung on in the face of Croatia’s pressure (and in the case of Croatia’s equalizer in the 117th minute, they decided not to hang on at all and leave themselves vulnerable at the back).

Modric was incredible against Brazil, and these are the games where legends are born. Modric added another huge performance to his already all-time great legacy as he and Croatia marched to the World Cup semi-finals.

Present at finals in three different decades

Luka Modric managed, at this World Cup, to reach an incredible record first: he is the first player in history to play at both a European Championship and a World Cup in three different decades, according to OPTA.

Of course, his record was then matched by Cristiano Ronaldo, but the Croatian was the first to achieve this feat.

Modric made his national team debut against the “pumas”

Luka made his debut for Croatia’s senior team in 2006 and the quarter-final against Brazil was his 160th international appearance. Modric made his debut against Argentina and scored his first international goal in a friendly against Italy. On his debut, Croatia beat Argentina 3-2 in a friendly.

Luka Modric has been part of the team at the European Championship in 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020, as well as the FIFA World Cup in 2006, 2014 and 2018. He became the second Croatian to achieve this honour.

For Croatia’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, Modrić became the team’s new captain after the retirement of Darijo Srna, and led his team to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final, in which his team lost to France. Luka Modric won the best player award at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. He would later go on to win the Ballon d’Or, “breaking” the hegemony established by Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for more than a decade.

He’s not going to stop there

Now 37, the question arises: is this World Cup Luka Modric’s “swan song”? Will he retire from the national team after this final tournament? Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has dismissed the idea of Luka Modric retiring from the national team too soon, stressing his importance to the team.

Despite Modric turning 37 in September and reaching his 160th international cap in the quarter-final against Brazil, Dalic seemed certain that the veteran midfielder would be part of his plans for years to come. The Croatia coach also believes that the player himself would like to remain part of the team for his own “self-improvement”.

“This will not be Luka’s last tournament,” Dalic told a news conference. “He will continue to play for Croatia, I am absolutely sure of that. Luka continues to work hard and continues to strive for self-improvement. We will still need him for some time in the future.”

After the 2018 World Cup, coach Zlatko Dalic saw some of his most experienced players end their international careers – one of them is now his assistant, former striker Mario Mandzukic. So if he says Modric won’t retire, he knows what he’s talking about.

Dalic went on to highlight the astounding achievements his team has achieved, given Croatia’s small stature as a nation, stating, “We have never had a team this big: “The results we have achieved at the World Cup and European Championships in recent years are unparalleled for a country of our size. I think this team has brought great success to our people – and when you look at that, it is truly a miracle. We have become a force in world football because we are a nation that always feels it has to prove its worth.”

Croatia, with a population of just 3.9 million, which only gained its independence three decades ago, has already reached its seventh World Cup appearance (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018, 2022) and in three of those, it has reached the semi-finals (3rd place in 1998, 2nd place in 2018).

Modric defeated Argentina each time

Returning to Luka Modric, who we mentioned made his debut in a match against Argentina, it must be said that the Real Madrid midfielder is unbeaten against the Albiceleste national team. With Modric in the team, Croatia has played twice against Argentina: the 2006 friendly, won 3-2, and, most recently, a group stage match at the 2018 World Cup, won by the former Yugoslavians 3-0. In that match, Modric even scored one of the three goals. Since Modric’s debut for the Croatian national team in 2006, the two national teams have met once before, in 2014, in a friendly won 2-1 by the South Americans, but Modric was not in the squad then.

Historically, five matches have been played between the two national teams: three friendlies and two World Cup matches. Twice Croatia won (once at the World Cup in 2018), twice Argentina won (once at the World Cup in 1998) and once it was a draw.

Modric, the footballer; Modric, the motivator

At the age of 37, Modric remains as important to Croatia as ever. The brains behind his team’s attack, his influence is just as important off the pitch, acting as a father figure to a new generation of young players.

In Fifa’s ‘Captains’ documentary series, he is shown motivating Dinamo Zagreb and Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.

“Why can’t you make a mistake?”. Croatia captain Modric asks Livakovic in a hotel lobby. “Everybody makes them. I feel your problem is that you’re afraid to make them.”

Livakovic was exponential and decisive in both the shootout against Japan in the “round of 16” and Brazil in the “quarterfinals.” Modric’s lesson worked.

“Luka is the best Croatian player of all time,” said former Croatian midfielder Nenad Bjelica in an interview with the BBC. “Of course, if he can give advice to young players, he will give it. His words are very important for every player. On the field, he is very important for his leadership and character. He may not play at a top, top, top level, but he still plays very well. He’s a great leader of this team.”

Modric has already won everything there is to win at club team level. Why wouldn’t he add a world title to this huge career he’s had?

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