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MOSCOW, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - Croatia captain Luka Modric said being awarded the Golden Ball for the World Cup’s best player was “bittersweet” after losing the final 4-2 to France Sunday night.

“Obviously I liked the recognition and thanks to those who chose me, but clearly I would have preferred to have won the World Cup,” said the Real Madrid midfielder.

“It wasn’t to be and now we will rest and in the coming days celebrate this because it is still a huge thing for Croatia, but right now the feeling is bittersweet.

“We are proud of what we have done, but a bit sad at losing the final.”

Despite being forced into extra-time in all three of their knockout rounds before the final, Croatia dominated the opening period and were desperately unlucky to trail 2-1 at half-time through Mario Mandzukic’s own goal and a controversial Antoine Griezmann penalty.

The smallest country to make a World Cup final in 68 years, with a population of just over four million, finally wilted after the break as Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe added to France’s lead before Mandzukic pulled a goal back.

“Although I think we deserved more, we can’t change anything,” added Modric. “We can only be proud of what we did — we never gave up and fought until the end.”

With the score at 1-1, France were awarded a penalty after Argentine referee Nestor Pitana reviewed video footage of an Ivan Perisic handball.

Croatia were doubly frustrated by Pitana’s decision as France’s opener also came from a dubious free-kick.

“The small details went in favour of France. It is a shame because I think we were very, very good and deserved to win,” said Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic.

“It is a shame that they didn’t review the foul before the first goal and only the one that went against us.

“The foul for the first goal is clearly not a foul, the penalty is very, very dubious... it hurts a lot to lose like this.”

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic insisted VAR was a “good thing” for football despite Pitana’s call going against his side.

But Rakitic believes improvements can still be made to the system that was being used in the World Cup for the first time.

“I understand they want to improve things with VAR, but there is still margin for improvement,” he added. “It has helped a lot but it is still not perfect.”


MOSCOW, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - Croatia captain Luka Modric won the Golden Ball award for the World Cup’s best player despite being on the losing side to France in a thrilling final in Moscow Sunday night.

Modric was named man-of-the-match three times in Croatia’s seven games in Russia, but even the Real Madrid midfielder was powerless to stop France’s firepower and the rise of 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward won the young player of the tournament award after scoring his fourth goal of the competition in the final, which France won 4-2.

Belgium captain Eden Hazard finished second in the running for the Golden Ball, with France’s Antoine Griezmann, who also scored his fourth goal of the tournament in the final, coming third.

Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois won the Golden Glove award for the best goalkeeper.

Despite Griezmann and Mbappe getting on the scoresheet, England’s Harry Kane claimed the Golden Boot for his six goals.


MOSCOW, July 14, 2018 (News Wires) - Croatia captain Luka Modric believes the toughness of his World Cup squad has some roots in the war that broke up the former Yugoslavia.

On the eve of the World Cup final against France, Modric has been reluctant to go too deeply into answering a question from a reporter who identified himself as a war correspondent from the 1990s, when Croatia became an independent state.

The question was about "how this war forged the spirit of yourself and of the team."

The 32-year-old Modric was a child when his grandfather was killed and his family forced from its home. He replied by saying "I don't like to go back to these things. It's all in the past."

He adds "Of course, everything influences you. It's made us resilient as people, as the nation."

Croatia has spent the maximum amount of time on the field at this World Cup. The team playing extra-time in all three knockout games, and trailed to the first goal scored each time.

Modric has covered more yards than any player at the World Cup, registering 63.03 kilometers (39 miles) in six games, according to FIFA.




MOSCOW, July 12, 2018 (News Wires) - Croatia midfielder Luka Modric has slammed the English media, who he said underestimated his side ahead of their World Cup semi-final against the Three Lions on Wednesday.

Modric, whose team initially went 1-0 down to England thanks to a sublime free kick by Kieran Trippier in the fifth minute, accused the English press of showing a lack of respect to Croatia.

Modric told ITV after the match: "People were talking … English journalists, pundits from television. They underestimated Croatia tonight and that was a huge mistake."

Having gone into extra time and penalties in their previous two games ahead of Wednesday's semi-final, Modric said there was an assumption that the Croatian team would be tired, giving England the advantage.

He said: "All these words from them we take, we were reading and we were saying: ‘OK, today we will see who will be tired.’ They should be more humble and respect their opponents more.

"We showed again that we were not tired – we dominated the game mentally and physically."

Modric said: “We should have killed the game even before extra time. This is an amazing achievement for us – it’s a dream come true after such a long time. We are in the final and that is the biggest success in Croatia history. We have to be proud.”

SOCHI, July 8, 2018 (News Wires) - Croatia progressed to the semi-finals of the World Cup after a second successive penalty shootout Saturday but their inability to put away another unimpressive team over 90 minutes and extra time is a major worry for the Balkan side.

Croatia will now face England on Wednesday in Moscow and after two long and tiring games they will surely start as heavy-legged underdogs.

However, a bigger issue for coach Zlatko Dalic will be how to get more decisive performances from his top players.

Luka Modric won the man of the match award for the third time in five games at this World Cup, with a superb array of passing from a deep role in midfield.

But as in the previous match against Denmark - which Croatia also won on penalties after an insipid 1-1 draw - all too often his team mates failed to do anything with them.

Up front, Mario Mandzukic was leaden and static and a strike rate of one goal apiece in five games for him, Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Ante Rebic is disappointing.

Ivan Rakitic, so often a key man for Barcelona, was not nearly as influential as at club level, while in defence, Russia’s Mario Fernandes beat more highly rated defenders to head home a late equaliser.

Croatia often looked reluctant to attack and Modric’s words after the game hinted at a lack of adventure that will surely cost them sooner or later.

“Russia played a very good game, particularly in the first half, they surprised us, they pressed us very high, we could not build up our play,” Modric said. “We did not want to risk some passes that would tip the balance in our favour.”

That caution is disappointing but if there is a silver lining for Dalic, it is that his team once again showed the mental strength to win on penalties - a not inconsiderable feat in front of a partisan 44,000 crowd in Sochi.

But he was fatalistic on the prospect of another spot kick ordeal.

“In the second half and in extra time we dominated, we should have finished the job before penalties,” he said, “but maybe it’s written in the stars that we have to go through the extra drama.”


ROSCHINO, Russia, June 29, 2018 (News Wires) - Listening to the way Ivan Rakitic talks about Croatia midfield partner Luka Modric, it quickly becomes clear how lucky he feels to be even sharing the same pitch as him at the World Cup.

He calls Modric the best Croatian footballer of all time - a big leap, considering Rakitic grew up idolizing the great Robert Prosinecki - and feels Modric is so good he has arrived from a different planet.

"You try to enjoy it as much as you can, to learn," Rakitic said on Friday. "It's the best thing that can happen to any player."

Rakitic and Modric, who play for Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, form Croatia's all-star central-midfield pairing that has been a key factor behind the team topping its group at the World Cup, setting up a last-16 match against Denmark.

They are often mentioned in the same breath, but Rakitic clearly sees himself as the junior member of the duo. He speaks in almost reverential tones about Modric, his "big brother," and likens his qualities to Andres Iniesta, whom he has spent four years alongside at Barcelona.

"It seems like both of them are from a different planet and they came to play football with us mortals here," Rakitic said at Croatia's training base, just north of St. Petersburg. "Both of them are among the best players ever in their positions.

"If I created a football team, I would have both of them in my team. I can thank God to have the opportunity to play with both of them."

With Modric - a four-time Champions League winner - its leader and inspiration, Croatia is a genuine contender to win what has become a wide-open World Cup in Russia. Or at least emulate the 1998 team which reached the semifinals in France, featuring Prosinecki, Zvonimir Boban and Davor Suker.

The technically gifted Prosinecki has long been seen as Croatia's all-time best player, but even he has recently said Modric surpasses him.

"If Robert Prosinecki said that, it has to be true because nobody knows about football more than Prosinecki. And I would agree with him completely," Rakitic said. "Not only that Luka is the best player ever, but he is a great person, a leader and we are following him."

The Croatia-Denmark match will feature three of the best midfielders in this tournament, with playmaker Christian Eriksen as much of a fulcrum for the Danes as Modric and Rakitic are for Croatia.

The Croatians have been quite reticent to talk about Denmark in recent days, but Rakitic was open about the qualities Eriksen and his team possess. Predictably, he focused on its well-drilled defense that shut out France in their last game and conceded only one goal in the group stage.

"They are very compact, they know how to stop their opponents," he said. "They allow few chances to score for the opposing team and they can be very dangerous on the attack.

"And they have Christian Eriksen, who is one of the best playmakers in Europe and the world."

Get past Denmark, and Croatia is likely to play against Spain - the team Rakitic sees as the tournament favorite despite winning only one of its three group games.

"To be honest, I see Spain above everyone else," he said. "The confidence they are playing with is one level above everyone else."

With many of Croatia's so-called golden generation into their 30s, including Modric and Rakitic, every game now is potentially their last together at a major tournament. For Rakitic, that is a motivation in itself.

"I don't know if this is the last competition for us, we will see about that," he said, smiling.

"If we, at the end, manage to lift this trophy, we go into international retirement happy."