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Luka Modric puts in heroic performance as Croatia beat Brazil and advance to World Cup semi-finals

FBL-WC-2022-MATCH58-CRO-BRA Photo by NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP via Getty Images

NOTE: These are our notes on Luka Modric specifically. Real Madrid’s Brazilian players will be covered in a separate article later today

After Croatia drew with Morocco 0 - 0 on the opening matchday of the World Cup, I had stated that it was going to take a lot more, both physically and mentally, out of an older Luka Modric to a lead this Croatian side far into the World Cup again.

Perhaps that was naive, and where I may have underestimated Croatia the most is their composure and mentality. They may not have a star striker like Mario Mandzukic or Davor Suker, and Modric is four years older now. But there is another side of this that needs to be highlighted: Croatia know how to grind games out, stay organized defensively, and while their counter-attacks aren’t prolifically lethal, they’re momentous and timely. There is an efficiency to them — an ability to outer-perform their xG and minimize the margin of error teams have against them.

That’s some of the mental side of things. The other bits are important too: Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic are better and Dominik Livakovic has been having the month of his life.

Modric remains at the heart of it all. I wrote about his previous performances in this tournament here, and all of those things he’s done so well in those past games — organize the press and build-up, create from the right-half space, escape pressure — were prominent tonight against Brazil when his country needed him on the brink of elimination.

Against Japan, he lasted 99 minutes. Tonight against Brazil, Zlatko Dalic kept him on for entirety of the game: 120 minutes and into the penalty shootout where he was one of four Croatia players who converted their penalties and sank Brazilian hearts.

Modric was everywhere tonight. His 140 touches were the most of anyone on the field. He pounced on loose balls with great positioning, was available as an outlet whenever the team needed one, played vertical passes, had neat touches on the ball, blocked shots in the box, and was even important snuffing Neymar’s line-breaking runs.

But I’d argue that despite having a good game throughout, where you really noticed him was in extra time where his chilled blood kept Croatia’s build-up composed. He dropped into a deep-lying play-making role and started to dictated the tempo as Brazil struggled to hold possession as they hung on in the face of Croatia’s pressure (and in the case of Croatia’s equalizer in the 117th minute, they decided to not hang on at all and leave themselves vulnerable at the back).

Modric was incredible today, and these are the games where legacies are made. Modric added to his already all-time great legacy as he and Croatia march on to the World Cup semi-finals.

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