It wasn’t an ideal night for Luka Modric, who likely played his last (although, who knows?) World Cup game ever tonight. Croatia went behind in the 34th minute, and then again in the 39th minute. And as much as Croatia have loved conceding first in this tournament before coming back to win, doing so tonight against an efficient Argentina counter-attack, and equally importantly, against one of the best defensive lines in the World Cup, was too tall of a mountain to climb.
If it’s any consolation to him — and knowing him, it isn’t — Modric did his part, and Croatia won the midfield battle for most of the first half. All of the middle-three — Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic, Modric — controlled tempo and worked in unison to progress the ball.
But where the unravelling began was through defensive lapses and a disappointing attacking line. Long gone are the days of reliable scorers like Mario Mandzukic and Davor Suker. Croatia kept the ball, but had trouble creating meaningful chances in the area and had no runners or dribblers to take advantage of the vertical play.
When Argentina got a penalty to open the scoring, there were debates whether it was a penalty or not, but the discussion should’ve been about how easily Croatia conceded that chance in the first place — with Dejan Lovren misreading a pass and failing to react in time. Livakovic was left to himself.
Croatia were still in the game at that point, but didn’t keep themselves in it long enough. Five minutes later, they overcommitted bodies on a set-piece, and the defending in transition was abysmal as Julian Alvarez ploughed through brilliantly, while simultaneously eating up the failed clearances:
JULIAN ALVAREZ WHAT A GOAL— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 13, 2022
2-0 ARGENTINA pic.twitter.com/73747qp92r
It didn’t help that in the second half, Croatia lost Brozovic early due to injury, and Dalic’s men formed a double-pivot with Modric and Kovacic. That shift in itself wasn’t a huge problem as they could still keep the ball and progress it, but they also lost an extra shield defensively in transition, and adding Bruno Petkovic just ahead of them in midfield didn’t help the attack much. Croatia’s best chances in the second half still fell to Lovren. Unideal.
The game was sealed once Lionel Messi undressed Josko Gvardiol to set up Alvarez to make it 3 - 0.
In a losing cause, Modric had 93 touches on the ball, had two key passes, and some key interventions in midfield.
He came off to a standing ovation in the 80th minute: