Modric the man behind the miracle: Croatia captain can inspire another World Cup upset against Argentina

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Luka Modric Croatia 2022 World Cup HIC 16:9
The midfielder has played a pivotal role in Croatia, a nation of just four million people, once again defying all expectations in Qatar

Nothing much about Croatia's run to the semi-final of Qatar 2022 makes much sense. "When you look at it, this really is a miracle," coach Zlatko Dalic told reporters. "We have become a force in world football because we are a nation who always feels like we have to prove ourselves."

Luka Modric, though, has nothing left to prove.

He is a five-time Champions League winner. He managed to win a Ballon d'Or in the era of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. He has pretty much completed football. And yet here he is, back in a World Cup semi-final at the age of 37.

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It's ridiculous. The common consensus was that he would never get another chance to win a World Cup after Croatia's heartbreaking 4-2 loss to France in the final of Russia 2018.

Now, he is just one game away from another crack at the game's biggest prize. "The dream continues," as he wrote on Twitter last week.

Such drive is impressive enough, given all Modric has achieved. What's really remarkable, though, is how his body has held up to the rigours of the modern game.

Andres Iniesta, for example, is just a year older than Modric and yet one of the greatest midfielders of all time retired from international football in 2018. Just like everyone else, he's astounded that his former Clasico rival is still going strong.

"We are players with different profiles but, at the same time, similar in terms of position on the field, conception of the game, handling the ball," the Spaniard told AS. "He is one of the best midfielders there is and ever will ever be."

There's no disputing that claim. When he takes to the field to face Argentina on Tuesday night, Modric will become the oldest player to start six games at the same World Cup.

He's not living off his reputation either. The frail and diminutive No.10 remains a giant of the game, effective in every aspect of the game. Modric ranks fifth for successful passes in the final third (201) in Qatar, and third for both interceptions (eight) and possession won (39).

“I will repeat again, whatever I say about Luka Modric, it will not be enough," Dalic said. "I have said everything I can say. I just hope he stays healthy.

"But I am sure this is not his last competition that he will play for Croatia, and that he will be part of this team for years to come. His fitness, professionalism and attitude gives us the right to think that way."

As does his performance against Brazil in the quarter-finals.

Time actually appeared to be catching up with Modric in the last-16 clash with Japan. He was replaced during the first half of extra-time, having failed to take control of a game that the Blue Samurai arguably deserved to win.

Dalic feared that he'd have to replace him again against Brazil. However, when he asked Modric how he was feeling physically after Neymar had opened the scoring for the Selecao, the veteran told him he was "fully ready".

Ready to help level the game with a little bit of midfield magic that led to Bruno Petkovic's 117th-minute equaliser. And ready to convert a penalty that made him the first man to ever score in three World Cup shootouts.

Modric wrote on Twitter afterwards, "Never. Give. Up." And it is this never-say-die attitude which explains why he will go down as an all-time great. And why Croatia represent such a threat to Lionel Messi's Argentina.

"You could say we have the same DNA as Real Madrid because we always keep going until the end," Modric told El Chiringuito.

This semi-final obviously brings together two of the game's most iconic No.10s, not that Modric has any interest in focusing on his personal duel with Messi.

"I just want to play another semi-final against a big team," he told Television Espanola. "That's what I want, not just to play against one player.

"Of course, Leo is very big, he's their best player, and we're going to have a lot of difficulties to stop him. But we are prepared and we are going to give it our all. I hope it will be enough to be in the final."

It certainly could be. Argentina will be the favourites against Croatia, but so too were Brazil. With Modric in this kind of inspirational form, a second consecutive World Cup final appearance is entirely possible for a logic-defying nation of just four million people.

Their captain represents the very best of them, a combination of talent and tenacity that few other players possess.

Modric is the man behind the miracle. Don't be surprised if he pulls off another one in Lusail.