Luka Modric has progressed steadily through the ranks of European football to earn a place in Real Madrid’s starting team and his form will be vital for Croatia’s bid to reach the World Cup knockout stages for the first time since 1998.
Modric was 13, and at home in Zadar on the Adriatic coast, when his country reached the semi-finals at France 98, their first major tournament as an independent nation.
The frail-looking but tough and gifted central midfielder has found it difficult to emulate his predecessor, Zvonimir Boban, and Croatia’s recent national sides have failed to build on that talented 90s generation.
Modric, now 28, came to the fore at Croatia’s top club, Dinamo Zagreb, in 2003, where he won three league titles and two cups, scoring 33 goals in 128 games before his move to Tottenham Hotspur in 2008.
His vision, passing and close control made him a key player at the Premier League club who reached the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time during his four-year spell at White Hart Lane, which ended in a protracted move to nine-time European champions Real Madrid.
Yet while his club career flourished, Modric suffered one heartbreak after another in his Croatia shirt.
Following a group-stage exit after a dramatic 2-2 draw with underdogs Australia in the 2006 World Cup, the Croatians lost a heart-stopping Euro 2008 quarter-final against Turkey with Modric missing one of his country’s three penalties in the shootout.
It had been arguably Modric’s best tournament, as Croatia stormed through the group stage, beating eventual runner-up Germany 2-1, and took the lead against Turkey in the last minute of extra time only to see their opponents equalise with the last kick of the game.
The Croatians failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and Modric had a patchy Euro 2012 as they failed to progress from a tough group that included eventual winners Spain and runners-up Italy.
Modric struggled in his first season at Real under Jose Mourinho, but his breakthrough came when he made a decisive impact in a 3-2 aggregate win over Manchester United in the 2012/2013 Champions League last 16.
With United 1-0 up on the night, 2-1 on aggregate and down to 10 men after Nani was sent off, Mourinho threw Modric into the fray and the playmaker repaid the coach’s faith with a stunning equaliser and an impressive all-round performance that turned the tie on its head.
Modric has been in fine form this season and was again one of Croatia’s key players in World Cup qualifying, and if he can maintain his influence, Croatia will be a threat in Brazil.
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