DOHA: The Croatian squad boast just a few of the players who took them to the World Cup final in 2018, runners-up to France, but Luka Modric defies time to be one of those rare constants.
The 37-year-old Real Madrid midfielder worked tirelessly through the 90 minutes of a 0-0 draw with Belgium on Thursday to book Croatia’s place in the round of 16, where they will face Japan on Monday.
The captain leads by example, showing the young players what is possible and how much effort it takes to achieve it.
While the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner, with five Champions League titles to his name, is still working selflessly in midfield, no one else can have any excuses not to follow suit.
Croatian defender Josip Juranovic believes Modric is setting an example for the young players in the squad to fend off World Cup fatigue.
“In my tank, my (petrol) tank is full,” the Celtic defender told a press conference on Saturday.
“It’s a World Cup – we can only (be part of) it once in our lifetime.
“I can’t wait for the game to start. When you see people like Luka Modric running and dying on the pitch, it gives young players extra energy to run.
“We have a great combination of experience and young players in the squad.”
Croatia finished second in Group F and Juranovic, 27, played 90 minutes in all three games, while Modric also played 90 minutes against Morocco in the opener and 86 against Canada in the landslide victory of the team 4-1.
In the Belgium and Morocco matches, Modric was voted man of the match.
Though some of his contributions are subtle, and at times thankless, they have been rewarded in Qatar, not that his teammates need reminders of his quality.
Asked about Croatia’s winning mentality, midfielder Lovro Majer said it was innate but also due to older players like Modric bringing years of experience to the team.
“We have a winning mentality in our blood,” Majer said on Saturday.
“I think we have a great mix of experienced players who have done great things in their careers and young players with new energy.
“A combination of something innate and this mixture of experience and youth.”
Sitting next to him at Croatia’s training center in Doha, Juranovic agreed.
“When you have world-class players who have been playing at the highest level for 10 years, that helps a lot, so we believe we can turn around any situation on the pitch,” said the defender.
Modric is among the best passers in the tournament, getting Croatia up the pitch with smart balls, while maintaining his defensive discipline.
The former Tottenham player has made several important interceptions, presses well and is also capable of deciding when to go deeper alongside Marcelo Brozovic.
Perhaps what helps Modric run, fight and compete at an elite level is his mindset.
The midfielder spoke to reporters at the start of the tournament and said the glory of reaching the final four years ago in Moscow was no longer relevant now.
“Everything we went through during the 2018 World Cup was an unforgettable experience, but we have to put it aside and focus on what lies ahead,” Modric said.
“A lot of Russian players are not here. We have new players, fresh blood and new energy.
“We also have veteran players who have helped the youngsters adapt. It’s a new tournament and we have to look at it that way.”
Since gaining independence in 1991, Croatia have only missed the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
In 1998 they made a surprise run to the semi-finals, where they were beaten by France.
Les Bleus were their executioners again in 2018, and if they face France in this tournament, it would mean they have reached the final.
Modric will need to cover a lot more ground before that happens, starting against Japan on Monday.

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