The last time Croatia took part in a major international tournament, they shocked the world as Luka Modric led them all the way to the World Cup final in 2018. And as amazing as that achievement was, it would be an even bigger shock if Croatia come anywhere close to repeating that feat in Euro 2020.
Modric is one of just a few survivors left from that fabled 2018 team, and the current squad is not quite as strong.
At 35 years of age, Modric does not have many major international tournaments left; this could possibly be his very last one. But the Real Madrid midfielder is coming off another excellent season and will once again be central to Croatia’s success.
SBOTOP takes a deep look at Luka Modric’s stellar Croatia career to date and see if he can add even more memorable moments at Euro 2020.
The new golden boy
Even at a young age, Modric showed the potential to be the next big thing in Croatian football, following in the footsteps of Davor Suker, Robert Prosinecki, and Zvonimir Boban – famed members of the Golden Generation that finished third in the 1998 World Cup.
Modric made his full international debut at age 20 in 2006 and was included in that summer’s World Cup in Germany, making two appearances as a substitute.
And just two short years later, a 22-year-old Modric would take on a starring role in Croatia’s Euro 2008 campaign. He led his country to the quarter-finals and a fifth-place finish — their best-ever showing in the European Championships – and earned a place in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.
Modric moved to Tottenham Hotspur that summer and had four fine seasons in North London, where he established himself as one of the top central midfielders in Europe. And it wouldn’t be long until one of the top teams in Europe came calling.
Rise at Real Madrid
Like Prosinecki and Suker before him, Modric made the move to Real Madrid in 2012. He was quickly a regular in the side alongside superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos. He would play at least 32 league games three times in his first four years in Spain, with the lone exception coming in 2014 when he suffered a thigh injury while on international duty with Croatia.
While Modric’s international career was lacking in success at the time, Modric enjoyed much of that at Real. They won the La Liga title in his second season with the club and the first of four Champions League titles the season after.
With so many Galacticos in those Real teams of the 2010s, it was easy for Modric to get lost in the shuffle. But the discerning football fans realised just how valuable the diminutive midfielder was to Real’s success. While his pinpoint passing often caught the eye, he also did the dirty work for the team with the tireless running and tackling he did in defence.
Many of Modric’s other invaluable attributes like his leadership and determination were also overlooked for years – until 2018, that is.
The Golden Year
After wrapping up a sensational third-straight Champions League triumph with Real, Modric went to World Cup 2018 with the so-called next Golden Generation of Croatian football, which included the likes of Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic, Darijo Srna, and Ivan Perisic.
With that talented group led by Modric, Croatia were a popular dark horse pick for the tournament, and that was exactly what they proved to be. Just like in 1998, Croatia made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup. And they went one step further by reaching the final, where they eventually lost to France.
The 33-year-old Modric did just about everything in that tournament: he captained the side, scored goals, created chances, completed passes, made tackles, attempted dribbles, and so much more.
Because of his all-around contributions, he was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. And just a few months later, Modric would be awarded with another golden ball – the Ballon d’Or – as he became the first player to win the prestigious award other than Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in over a decade.
Critics will argue that Modric was an undeserving winner who was far from the best player and merely benefitted from team success as well as some Messi-Ronaldo fatigue. Nevertheless, it was still a much-deserved recognition of Modric’s abilities and his undoubted contributions toward team success.
Modric still magical ahead of Euro 2020
It has been three years since that magical year of 2018, but 35-year-old Modric is still playing at a surprisingly high level.
He just played an astounding 2,733 minutes for Real Madrid in La Liga alone — the highest total he’s played since his last years in England — and contributed five goals and three assists. He played a further 12 times in the Champions League, getting a goal and three assists.
However, the Croatia side he will lead to Euro 2020 is far from the vintage of 2018. Running mates in Rakitic and Mandzukic have since retired from international football, and Croatia are coming off a disastrous campaign in the Nations League (five defeats in six).
As a result, Modric remains vital to the team’s plans heading into Euro 2020. He is already the country’s most capped player with 136, and he should add a few more during the tournament.
Modric’s ability to control the midfield and create chances for the forwards will be so crucial to their success. They have decent Euro 2020 odds of escaping Group D with England, but it will get much tougher after that.
But even if this current Croatia side can’t quite reach the heights of 2018, Modric will still be at the centre of everything, creating Euro 2020 highlights and doing whatever he can to lead his country to glory.