Moscow – As far as Croatian icon Davor Suker is concerned, Luka Modric deserves the Golden Ball award for best player of the tournament.
“I would give Luka three votes if I could,” said Suker, who played for Sevilla, Real Madrid, Arsenal, West Ham and 1860 Munich during his career, and is now his country’s football supremo, after Modric helped Croatia beat Russia on penalties in the quarter-finals.
The 32-year-old was a little lucky with his spot kick which went in off goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev’s hand and the left post.
But Real Madrid star Modric could prove the difference as Croatia aim to go one step further than Suker’s class of 1998 and reach the World Cup final when they meet England in the semis tomorrow in Moscow.
Modric himself is not fussed with the Golden Ball or the World Player award in September, because “the most important thing is Croatia”.
“We have already accomplished something but this team can do more,” he said.
The 1998 team made a big impression with a third-place finish, featuring the likes of tournament top scorer Suker, Zvonimir Boban, Goran Vlaovic and Slaven Bilic.
But they lacked a playmaker of Modric’s quality, which raises hopes in the country that the 2018 team can go one step further into the final and possibly even lift the trophy.
In the Luzhniki on Wednesday, Modric will be confronted with his past when he runs into current tournament top scorer and Golden Ball rival Harry Kane from Tottenham Hotspur.
The diminutive Modric himself spent four years at White Hart Lane 2008-2012 before forcing a move to Real.
He had a hard time in the beginning in Spain but by now is an undisputed midfield leader and played a big role in Real winning the last three Champions Leagues and every major club title over the years.
But Croatia still lacks a major national team title, and this World Cup is seen as the last chance for this golden generation which apart from Modric
includes Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic (33), Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic (32) and Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic (30).
In order to win, England will need to contain Modric, who is involved in almost every Croatian attack, controlling the pace, and scoring twice, including in the impressive 3-0 win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
He also overcame missing a penalty in extra-time against Denmark, stepping up bravely minutes later to convert in a shoot-out.
Modric has played 485 of a possible 510 minutes in Russia but coach Zlatko Dalic said “all players had a long season” and promised that “there is power left for England.”
“We don’t want to stop,” Dalic said.