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Masterful Modric continues to show why he's one of the best players of his generation

The Real Madrid and Croatia star was the best player on the pitch in his side’s World Cup quarter-final tonight.

Luka Modric celebrates Croatia's victory over Russia.
Luka Modric celebrates Croatia's victory over Russia.
Image: Rebecca Blackwell

ANYONE WHO LOVES football with a passion will have marvelled at Luka Modric’s performance in Croatia’s deserved World Cup quarter-final win against Russia tonight.

Brian Kerr, a man who certainly fits that description, said on RTÉ that he was glad Croatia advanced because it means we will get to see more of Modric.

With stars such as Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo having exited the competition, Modric, Kerr argued, was the next best thing to those illustrious names.

Based on his performance tonight, it is hard to argue with that assessment. Some poor defending for Mário Fernandes’ late equaliser meant it was a more nerve-wracking victory than it should have been, but it is hard to begrudge Croatia a place in the semis — they were far superior technically over the course of the 120 minutes, with some remarkable Russian resilience and defensive organisation the main reason the game went to spot kicks.

As the match wore on, Modric and the Croats increasingly dominated the ball and controlled the play.

Alongside the similarly impressive Ivan Rakitić, the little magician was a joy to behold.

In addition to the intelligent movement, incisive passing and calmness under pressure that fans have come to associate with Modric for more than a decade now, the Real Madrid star also highlighted another part of his game that is less heralded.

The 32-year-old gave the performance of a 22-year-old, winning tackles and exhibiting remarkable energy even deep into extra-time — characteristics that are seldom expected to be part of a creative midfielder’s game.

Croatia have now emulated their 1998 counterparts’ achievement of reaching the World Cup semi-finals, but the current team overall is inferior to the one that excelled 20 years ago.

Miroslav Blažević’s team had players of the calibre of Davor Šuker, Robert Prosinečki, Igor Tudor and Zvonimir Boban.

Aside from Modric and Rakitic, this generation arguably features no other world-class stars. Mario Mandžukić is a selfless striker, whose list of achievements in the game speak for themselves, though at 32, is past his best. Dejan Lovren is better than some Premier League fans think, but he remains error-prone on occasion. Elsewhere, their squad is solid but unspectacular.

Rakitic and to a greater extent Modric are the heart of this team. It is a testament to their ability more than anything else that Zlatko Dalić’s men have gotten this far in the competition, and they will likely be key if they are to advance further.

Cristiano Ronaldo is often cited as Real Madrid’s main man, but those willing to look beyond the headlines will know that the Croatia captain has been similarly integral to the club.

Since joining Madrid in 2012, Modric has won four Champions Leagues, one Copa del Rey and one La Liga. Croatia may still be ‘dark horses’ in Russia, but it would be foolish to bet against the irrepressible former Tottenham star adding a World Cup winners’ medal to his incredible trophy haul.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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