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July 15, 2018

Croatia puts faith in Modric to fulfil WC dreams: France favourite to win World Cup

Sports

July 15, 2018

MOSCOW: France are favourites to win the World Cup for a second time in Moscow on Sunday when they take on a Croatia side forced to go through three periods of extra-time to make their first ever final.

By contrast, Didier Deschamps’s side have seen off Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium, all in 90 minutes, and enjoyed a day’s extra rest to prepare after their semifinal on Tuesday as they look to make amends for defeat in the Euro 2016 final to Portugal.

As the smallest country to reach a World Cup final for 68 years, Croatia cannot call on the same resources as the French but have shown incredible mental strength to battle back from falling behind in each of their three knockout games.

On the other hand, Luka Modric has taken an extraordinary path to the World Cup final — from fleeing his home as a child during Croatia’s war of independence to global superstar status. Croatia’s captain has also overcome the challenge of a relatively fragile physique to become one of the world’s best players. As a child refugee Modric honed his skills in a cratered hotel car park with nobody watching but on Sunday an estimated global audience of one billion will tune in to watch Croatia take on France in Moscow. “A boy training under shells and growing up during war knows no fear,” Marijan Buljat, Modric’s friend and childhood team-mate at NK Zadar told AFP. “It is ugly to go thorough this, but eventually he showed how strong he is in all situations. This all contributes to him being fearless and becoming one of the best in the world.”

A career that would eventually take him to four Champions League wins with Real Madrid via Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League and Croatia’s biggest club Dinamo Zagreb, began on the Adriatic coast in Zadar, where Modric took refuge from Serbian forces.

“He is mentally a very strong character,” said Josip Bajlo, his former coach.

Modric finished his club season by lifting the Champions League title but Croatia’s build-up to the World Cup was overshadowed by a court case.

The midfielder was charged in March over alleged false testimony he gave in the case that saw Croatian football kingpin Zdravko Mamic sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison.

Modric’s indictment still has to be formally approved by a Croatian court and he is not currently facing arrest.

But his performances in Russia — where he has been named man-of-the match three times — have enhanced his status as a national hero.

Modric’s technique has never been in doubt. However, questions were asked about whether a skinny kid who only grew to be 5 feet 8 inches (1.73 metres) tall could hold his own against taller, more powerful opponents in central midfield.

“You don’t have to be a strapping lad to play football,” said Modric. “I can only say I’ve never doubted myself, irrespective of what others said.”

Modric has shown his physical strength in leading Croatia through three periods of extra-time against Denmark, Russia and England to become the smallest country in 68 years to reach a World Cup final. —AFP

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