Before England’s semi-final against Croatia, the English media predicted that England would easily overcome a “tired Croatia”, who needed penalty shootouts in both their knock-out games before qualifying for the semi-finals for the first time after 1998.
“They underestimated Croatia tonight and that was a huge mistake. All these words we were reading and we were saying: ‘OK, today we will see who will be tired.',” Croatian Captain Luka Modric said at the media briefing after knocking England out of the tournament with a 2-1 victory.
“We showed again that we were not tired – we dominated the game mentally and physically,” he said as his team moved to the finals for the first time ever. A Mario Mandzukic strike in the 19th minute of extra time (109th minute) set the Croats on course to make history.
This may have been the first time Croatia entered the finals but shaming and shutting the critics is nothing new for the Captain. He has been a fighter ever since he decided to pursue football as his profession
When he was just six, he lost his grandfather who was shot dead by militant thugs. The thugs, by killing Modric senior, wanted to send a stern message to the natives of Modrici in Croatia to leave the war-torn place and Modric’s parents obeyed. At a tender age, he was forced to lead a life of a refugee in his war-torn homeland. But that didn't stop him from kicking a small, punctured football around, dreaming that one day he would be able to overcome a life scarred by the war.
Setting his foot in the football arena, at the age of 10, however, proved to be difficult as all he got were rejections from a number of coaches who thought he was ‘too frail and shy’ to make it.
It took his coach to pull strings to get him the chance for a trial with Dinamo Zagreb, a professional Croatian football club based in Zagreb. Soon, he had proved sceptics wrong and saw his contract being extended for 10 years.
After playing for different clubs and for the winning side in the Croatian championships, Modric took a flight to London to play for Tottenham Hotspurs in the English Premier League in 2008. He was instrumental in ensuring Spurs their first ever appearance in the UEFA Champions League in 50 years, he also played a stellar role in getting the underrated English side to get into the quarter-finals in the 2010-11 season.
After another year in London, by then a towering midfielder, Modric was signed by Real Madrid for a hefty 33 million pounds and he moved to the iconic Santiago Bernabue, Real’s home stadium
The dream move did not have a dream start though, as he failed to be Madrid Coach Jose Mourinho’s first choice as playmaker; he was also voted the worst La Liga signing of the 2012-13 season by readers of a well known Spanish football daily Marca. Life at Bernabeu was challenging, he had then conceded.
In 2018, he still remains a Madrid playmaker, only now he also is their number 10 and vital to team’s success in the recent past. Modric is world’s best number 10, his Madrid teammate Arbelao said recently after the Croatian victory over Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
Croatia is a country with a population of just 4.2 million, almost one-fifth the size of Delhi. But it is already a soccer powerhouse. And Modric and his teammates have given the country, which came into being merely 27 years ago, a reason to rejoice and revel in the glory.
Whether they win or lose in the final on Sunday, this side can expect to get a hero’s welcome when they return to Zagreb.