Luka Modric says the controversial award of the penalty “killed” Croatia in Sunday’s World Cup final, but insists his side must be proud of their overall performance in Russia and use it as foundation to achieve something great in future.
Contesting their first major final, Croatia were defeated 4-2 by France at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, when the match turned on a contentious spot kick awarded not long before half time.
With the score at 1-1 – Croatia had already fought back from Mario Mandzukic’s own goal – referee Nestor Pitana awarded France a penalty after ruling Ivan Perisic's handball inside his own area was enough to give a foul. Pitana used the Video Assistant Referee to make the call, although replays showed the decision was harsh.
Until that point, Croatia were the better side, and will also rue the concession of the opener, when Antoine Griezmann appeared to dive to win the free kick that led to the goal.
Asked afterwards about the penalty decision, Modric said: “I didn’t see, but everyone said it was unintentional and in a game of this magnitude you cannot give these kind of penalties. That was a turning point of the game. When we play the best football, we dominate the game and he gives a penalty, it kills you.
“We were surprised especially because first goal he gave the foul, which wasn’t in my opinion and they scored from that. It’s not easy again always to come back but in the end we tried, we fought until the end and we have to be proud of what we did, how we did today. But it wasn’t enough to win it.”
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Modric, the Croatia captain who was later named the tournament’s best player, said his team must take heart from securing Croatia’s best finish at a major tournament. The Real Madrid midfielder also urged the players to continue developing beyond their runner-up finish.
“This is certainly a big thing for us,” Modric said. “We need to build on this. Because we did a great tournament in all aspects and, hopefully, this should be the way in how we need to perform and how we need to fight.
“We’ll see what will happen in future. Now we need to, even if it’s difficult because we lost, enjoy in this success because it’s the biggest in Croatian football history and one of the biggest in Croatian sport overall.
“We have to be proud of what we achieved, how we played this tournament, how we played tonight. We couldn’t do more. We would like to win it, but it was not possible and in the end we are a bit, not disappointed, but sad. But when time passes we will realise more what we did.”
On winning the Golden Ball, Modric added: "Of course, this award is a great award. But of course I would prefer to win the World Cup more than anything. I cannot say that I don’t care. It’s the same for me: it’s a nice reward for me for everything that I did this tournament and I’d like to thank everyone for choosing me."