Few players sounded hungrier than Luka Modric in the build-up to Croatia’s Euro 2016 campaign.
The 30-year-old arrived in France fresh from a second Champions League triumph with Real Madrid but insisted he was not here to rest on his laurels.
“I want to win or make a deep run with Croatia into a major tournament and I am still yet to win La Liga,” he explained. “I feel the utmost pride every time I wear [the national team shirt] given our history.”
Stirring stuff. But big words often go unmatched by deeds at these tournaments. After 41 minutes at the Parc des Princes against Turkey, Modric set himself apart.
Selcuk Inan’s clearance from Ivan Rakitic’s cross looped up high but Modric was both alert to the possibilities and in possession of the rare talent to take advantage of them – offering a lesson in poise and technique to rifle a sweetly struck volley beyond Volkan Babacan’s despairing dive.
The Turkey goalkeeper will not enjoy the replays but he had a crowd of players between himself and Modric, and was undone by devilish dip.
Babacan’s sprawl meant this lacked the pure aesthetics of Dimitri Payet’s wonder-strike on the opening night for France but there should be little doubt that a fledgling Euro 2016 has been graced by another wonderful goal.
It was reward for Modric’s efforts in gently cajoling a blood-and-thunder affair down a few notches and into the favour of a gifted Croatian outfit.
Ozan Tufan said “good afternoon” to the Madridista by clattering him to the floor inside the first five minutes, but Modric is made of sterner stuff than to be dissuaded so easily.
A silken touch took him away from Tufan with balletic grace as the contest settled, although Oguzhan Ozyakup slid in to dispossess the playmaker. Here, Modric showed his true worth – springing to his feet, reading the attack and stealing in to regain possession for the latest Croatian forward surge.
It is through this understated and unrelenting work that he makes himself invaluable to Croatia. Opponents must find themselves trapped somewhere between irritation and admiration for an A-lister who does the grubby work without getting a speck of dirt on himself.
Croatia’s control increased after the interval, with Turkey boss Fatih Terim forced to substitute ineffective captain Arda Turan – an act once unthinkable with a crucial match in the balance, but the former Atletico Madrid midfielder is trapped by a malaise that has gripped him since last year’s move to Barcelona.
There were no such problems for his club mate Ivan Rakitic in the opposition ranks, while the lively Marcelo Brozovic was unfortunate that his relentless pursuit of a second goal ended fruitlessly.
Turkey’s insipid showing meant there was no price to Croatia’s profligacy and their massed ranks of red-and-white checked followers celebrated raucously at full-time.
Indeed, following the disgusting events in Marseille, it was heartening to see the jovial conviviality enjoyed between both sets of fans before kick-off in Paris continue within the stadium, which was a delirious cauldron of noise more than half an hour before the match got underway.
Croatia and Turkey supporters did their bit in making Euro 2016 feel good about itself again on a grey day in the capital. So did Modric, although the latter will not thank him for it.
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