Croatia lost to Argentina 3-0 on Tuesday, and four years after their unlikely appearance in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final, they were eliminated from the semifinals in Qatar. At Lusail Iconic Stadium in Lusail, La Albiceleste took advantage of a sloppy Vatreni error as opposite No. 10 Lionel Messi was in inspired form to score one and assist another.
Zlatko Dalic’s team, who played second best for the majority of the game as Lionel Scaloni’s players made sure that emotion wouldn’t get the better of them, could not raise many objections to the outcome. Even so, great player Luka Modric, who might have played his final significant international match, showed flashes of brilliance.
The Real Madrid player and his Croatian colleagues were overshadowed by the South Americans because they were two years older than Messi and now 37. Even if Modric is incredibly durable, it is tough to imagine him playing through the UEFA Euro 2024 and the following World Cup in 2026.
That shouldn’t diminish the Ballon d’Or winner’s personal talent, though, which showed on a few instances as Kockasti made his exit. Modric appeared to be Croatia’s best chance of success until he was replaced in the 81st minute. Croatia started the game very poorly and paid the price for it.
Even though his team was down a goal, the Zadar man still displayed class on a par with Messi’s as he danced past Argentina players to try to help his country. Unfortunately, when it meant most, this Croat team was not on the same page, and the former Tottenham Hotspur and Dinamo Zagreb player was left alone in his technical and intellectual prowess.
It is clear that Modric, a frequent winner with Real as seen by his five UEFA Champions League victories, had nothing left to prove at the club or international levels, yet he was still driven to deliver a World Cup victory. If Croatia defeats the loser of Wednesday’s match between France and Morocco, third place will not be an embarrassment, but participation was not the acknowledgment this inventive talent craved.
Modric does not deserve for his lasting memory to have been on the receiving end of a Messi masterclass but rather his long-lasting brilliance for Real and Croatia, especially after the agony of the 2018 loss to Les Bleus which could now be demoted to the role of third-placed playoff if the Atlas Lions achieve the unthinkable.
It was a credit to his ability to propel Vatreni to the final on his own that he was able to win the Ballon d’Or back in 2018, despite not being on the Moscow-winning squad. His ability to maintain similar form for the majority of the following five years was nothing short of extraordinary, as seen by the standing ovation he received after he finished.
If this is to be Modric’s final appearance at an international competition wearing a red checkered shirt (Croatia always wears red checkered shirts in spirit, despite being forced to wear blue on Tuesday), then we should consider ourselves fortunate to have seen a master of his trade in his prime for as long as we have. Additionally, a future without Modric need not seem as bleak given the new Croatian talent that is currently on the rise.