Croatia, Luka Modric ready to fight for a place in the World Cup final


Doha, Qatar – There is a place on the Corniche Promenade in Doha where 2022 world cup The organizing committee raised a flag each time a new nation qualified for the tournament.

Croatiawent up in November 2021 and, while the heavyweights prefer Germany, spain, England And Brazil Have all been removed Now that they’re out there, the red, white and blue of the tiny Balkan country with a population similar to the US state of Oklahoma are still there.

It was the sixth to go up and would be one of the ones to go down as Croatia reached the semi-finals for the second consecutive World Cup. defeat Argentina at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday and they will make it back-to-back finals – a huge achievement for a country that only declared its independence 31 years ago.

Ask the fans walking around in Doha wearing Croatia’s red and white checkerboard shirts how it’s been possible and most, like Luka Milkovic, will answer in the same way.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” he says with a smile. “We have big hearts and our players love playing for Croatia.”

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It was the subject of news conferences following a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over favorites Brazil in the quarter-finals – the eighth of their last nine knockout ties in major tournaments to require at least extra time. goalkeeper dominik livkovich It was asked how Croatia managed to come back from 1-0 down in 115 minutes without scoring and eventually beat the five-time champions. “We are fighters,” he said. “In Croatia, we are raised as fighters.”

For Milkovic, it’s a mindset born out of Croatia’s turbulent history. Incorporated as a republic in communist Yugoslavia following the end of World War II, Croatia declared its independence in 1991. This triggered a war against the Serbian-controlled Yugoslavian army that lasted until 1995, during which thousands were killed and many families displaced.

“We have heart and we have fight, but it’s not just for the football team, it’s for all the people,” Milkovic told ESPN. “Our history is not easy. We are born fighters, I think so.”

It is a sentiment that the Croatia national team has adopted since it was officially recognized by FIFA in 1992. They did not enter the World Cup in 1994, but qualified four years later and finished third, losing to the eventual champions. France in the semi-finals.

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Croatia’s appearance in the last four in Qatar will be the third time they have reached that level in the past 24 years. To put this into context, that’s the same number of World Cup semi-finals as Brazil and Argentina put together over the same period, ItalySpain and England.

With a population of 3.9 million, Croatia is the fourth smallest country in this World Cup after host Qatar. wales And UruguayYet the team’s ability to produce players capable of competing on the world stage shows no signs of slowing down.

In 1998, they could call upon the cultured midfielder Robert Prosinecki, who played for both real madrid And barcelonaand Zvonimir Boban, who spent 10 years AC Milan, Striker Dvor Suker, who arrived at the tournament in France fresh from winning the Champions League with Real Madrid, won the Golden Boot after scoring six goals in seven matches.

the baton has now been passed luka modricWinner of five Champions League titles during a 10-year spell at Real Madrid.

Born in Zadar, a city of less than 100,000 people on the Adriatic Sea, Modric was named the world’s best player after the World Cup in 2018, ending a decade-long run of winning the Ballon d’Or award. Lionel Messi either Cristiano Ronaldo, Still only 37 years old, he has become much more than Croatia’s number 10.

“Luka Modric is not just a football player, he is a symbol for our country,” Milkovic told ESPN. “I think a person like him happens once in the life of a country like Croatia. He doesn’t miss any training, he doesn’t miss any game. He is a symbol for Croatia all over the world. Anywhere else in the world you say Croatia, people say ‘Luka Modric’.”

With 160 caps for his country, Modric is the flagship of this Croatia team, but their run in Qatar is not the last dance for an aging generation. Other players involved in the run to the final in Russia 2018 dejan lauren And Ivan PerisicBoth are 33 years old, but coach Zlatko Dalić has also tried to introduce some youth into his team.

ivan rakitic And Mario Mandzukic, from four years ago, has been replaced with players in their 20s. josco guardiolone of the standout young defenders of the tournament. RB Leipzig The centre-back impressed against Brazil and Croatia will need to shine again as they reach their semi-final against Argentina.

Argentina will start as favourites, as Brazil did in the previous round, but speaking at a news conference on Sunday, the right-back josip juranovic stated that Croatia had “nothing to fear.” It is an attitude that made him so dangerous in Russia 2018 and will worry Messi and company on Tuesday.

If nothing else, it will be a battle that is never easy against a nation of “fighters”.

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