2022 World Cup – Saturday 17 December 2022

Third/Fourth Place Play-off: Croatia v Morocco (Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan)

Every time the World Cup comes round since starting this site and writing a diary, I seem to end up saying the same thing about this particular fixture and it’ll never change – it’s the game nobody wants to play in. Does it really matter to a player, manager/coach or fan if they finish third or fourth? The fact is reaching the final and winning it is all that matters with even the runners-up in the final mere footnotes in the pages of football history.

Want proof? Well, Morocco head coach Walid Regragui, said the following ahead of the game:

“It is a little bit difficult. It is very complicated for both teams. You are so disappointed, you have just lost a semi-final and then two days later you have to go back out there.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know. It is like the booby-prize. I’m sorry for speaking like this. I understand it should be important, I understand it is better to finish third than fourth, but, for me, my takeaway is just that we didn’t get to the final.

“Even if we did get to the final, and I finished second, I would be saying the same thing to you.

“We want to be as positive as possible, especially for our fans. Finishing third would be great for our image.”

These two played out a very cautious 0-0 draw in a game that was part of the opening round of games in Group F. It will be interesting to see if this is a ‘throw caution to the wind’ type of game and how the teams line-up. This will undoubtedly be a last World Cup for a number of the Croatian squad notably their talented skipper Luka Modric and presumably and hopefully he will start. For Morocco they have injuries but as they showed against France they coped admirably. Fingers crossed for an open and entertaining fixture. Please not a 0-0 and decided on penalties!

2022 World Cup – Tuesday 13 December 2022

Argentina v Croatia (Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail)

 Billed as the World Cup last chance saloon for Messi and Modric, the 13th will be unlucky for one of them later today.

With what we consider to be the modern day country of Croatia coming into existence in the early nineties after the breakup and war in Yugoslavia, the team’s history is a relatively short one. In the case of games against Croatia, the Semi Final encounter in Lusail will only be the fifth occasion they have met Argentina.

The first was a friendly played in Zagreb in 1994 which ended 0-0, with the first competitive meeting coming four year later at the World Cup in France. This group stage game was settled in the first half by a goal from Mauricio Pineda as Argentina claimed the win 1-0. Croatia recorded their first win over the South American team in a friendly in 2006 played in Switzerland. The opening to the game was frantic as Argentina led 2-1 after just six minutes, with goals from Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi. However, second half goals from Darijo Srna and Dario Simic saw Croatia home to a 3-2 victory. The next time they met in 2014 was also a friendly and was played at West Ham United’s former ground at Upton Park, where a crowd of 19,834 witnessed a 2-1 win for Argentina. Croatia went in at the break ahead 1-0 thanks to an eleventh minute goal from Anas Sharbini but were undone by goals from Cristian Ansaldi (49’) and a Messi penalty (57’). The last meeting for these teams was in the group stages of the World Cup with Croatia blowing away Argentina with three second half goals from Ante Rebic (53’), Luka Modric (80’) and Ivan Rakitic (90’).

In getting to this point in the 2022 competition, Argentina started with a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia, but recovered with two 2-0 wins over Mexico and Poland to take top spot in Group C. They then overcame Australia 2-1 in the last sixteen before a penalty shoot-out victory against the Dutch in the last eight.

For Croatia, it was a second place finish in Group F after a 0-0 with Morocco, a 4-1 demolition of Canada and a hard-fought 0-0 with Belgium which saw the low countries side eliminated. It was then a win on penalties over Japan in the last sixteen and then again in knocking out Brazil in the Quarter Finals.

Argentina’s antics at the whistle against the Dutch has set me against the South Americans and I’ve no wish for the romantic vision of Messi winning the competition as his international swansong. However, as much as I’d like to see Croatia go through to a second successive final, I fear that Messi will inspire his side to make it through leaving the other LM with the joys of a third/fourth place game.

Book Review: Luka Modric – My Autobiography

If Luka Modric had a bucket list, it would surely read something like this: play in the Premier League (tick), become a Galactico (tick), win the Champions League (tick), lead Croatia to their best ever result at a World Cup (tick), win the Ballon d’Or (tick). After all that, there was only one thing left for Croatia’s most capped player to tick off – write an autobiography – and it’s now mission accomplished.

Modric emerged onto the global footballing radar in his four-year spell at Tottenham, but he’d already made his mark in his native Croatia at Dinamo Zagreb, via loan spells at Zrinjski Mostar and Inter Zapresic. His story started, though, much earlier, in modest and turbulent roots, set against the backdrop of a brutal Croatian War of Independence that robbed him of his beloved grandfather and his home. Despite these challenges, as the universal footballer narrative goes, Modric was drawn to football. Questions over his size and physicality which lingered throughout a lot of his career were raised early in his formative years, but there was perhaps no better test for a young Modric, nor a better schooling, than the notoriously tough Bosnian Premier League, where he became Bosnian Premier League Player of the Year aged 18. His time at Dinamo Zagreb brought a host of trophies and eventually a move to London, where Modric’s career took off, before his journey became stratospheric at Real Madrid. Modric’s autobiography, however, is bookended by perhaps the most important and yet arguably the most disappointing moment in his career – finishing as runner-up in World Cup 2018. For a nation of some four million people, this is a staggering achievement, but for Modric, a man who has won virtually all there is to win in the game, it initially felt like a failure. His autobiography fills in the story of how a young boy from war-torn Zadar reached the dizzy heights of a World Cup final and becoming the best player in the world.

The style of the autobiography itself is very traditional; there is nothing flamboyant or excessive in the way the book is ordered or told. Although, it’s a nice touch for the book to have 10 chapters – referencing Modric’s hallowed number 10. Modric, who comes across as a modest, humble man, appears as such in the book, but there’s also a hint of steel and tenacity that I hadn’t necessarily expected. The content is much to be expected, however, and gives a thorough overview of his whole life, although detail is sometimes a little bit lacking, but that’s hardly surprising given the amount Modric has to pack in to the book. Indeed, it’s great to have one of the best players of his generation and a recent Ballon d’Or winner not only penning an autobiography but doing so whilst still very much integral at club and national level. There’s a real sense of currency to the book as a result.

It’s also brilliant to see a different culture and nationality represented in footballing autobiographies. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve read another Croatian autobiography, nor I am aware if there are any others, but certainly it’s not the usual fare available. Perhaps Modric’s tome will open the floodgates, not only for other Croatian players – the likes of Davor Suker, Vedran Corluka, Niko Krancar, Davor Suker, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic, Domagoj Vida, Dejan Lovren, Eduardo da Silva and Mateo Kovacic, to name a few – but also lesser-represented nations.

I also enjoyed getting a greater sense of Modric the man, as although he’ll be familiar the world over as a footballer, he’s not one of the game’s most accessible personalities, so it’s intriguing to get a glimpse into his character. And anyone who followed the Harry Kane saga this summer will also note a very telling insight from Modric into one of the most formidable chairmen in the modern game – Tottenham’s Daniel Levy. Modric speaks often in the book about fate and had he got his way in negotiations at Spurs, he may have ended up at Chelsea instead of Real Madrid and who knows just how his story would have unfolded then. As it is, having been sold to Los Blancos, Modric went on to win two La Liga titles, a Copa del Rey, three Supercopa de Espana, four Champions Leagues, three UEFA Super Cups and three FIFA Club World Cup, and that’s before any individual accolades. So, however Modric’s career developed, it’s not bad for a boy who was rejected at Hadjuk Split for being too little. The phrase ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’ springs to mind here!

Jade Craddock


(Bloomsbury Sport. May 2021. Paperback: 304 pages)


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