Croatia's “little genius” Luka Modric will be in the limelight on Thursday as he and his countrymen go up against three-time champions Germany in a B match whose outcome will have a huge bearing on the outcome of Group B.
“I know I am going to be under close observation,” said the youngster, who next season will star in the English Premiership with Tottenham.
Coach Slaven Bilic expects nothing less of his star man that for him to step up to the plate and “be the best player of the tournament.
“That's not to put a burden on his shoulders but because it's what I think.”
Midfield partner Nico Kranjcar describes his teammate simply as “the new superstar of Croatian football,”
Following the win at “Wembley over England last November, which dumped the English out, Arsenal striker Eduardo, missing from Euro 2008 through injury, said that “he's our grand master.”
Arsene Wenger, who as Arsenal coach will get a close-up view of Modric across London next season, has identified him as the man who will possible be the revelation of the tournament.
At 22, he is the complete player. He is two-footed, has an innate sense of passing and has great speed of thought while his play is very precise and he can operate just behind the strikers or on the left.
A supporter of Barcelona, who is happy to play on his slight resemblance to former Barca idol Johan Crujff (he also wears the number 14 shirt which he will also do at Tottenham) Modric has to prove notably that he can cut it at the top level given a slender frame rare in today's game.
After a good start which saw him confidently slot home a penalty to beat Austria in the opening game he drifted rather out of the game but Bilic is sure he will flourish.
“He is going to get better with every day , in this tournament and in his career.”
A tough childhood appears to lie at the heart of his determination to succeed.
Following the news of his transfer to Tottenham, Croatia teammate Vedran Corluka recounted how when Modric was a boy he grew up with his family as refugees following attacks by Serbian forces on his Dalmatian village of Zaton.
He was also toughened up by the fact that early in his career, having been loaned out from Dinamo Zagreb to Bosnian side Zrinjski Mostar, he was mercilessly targeted by tough Bosnian league defenders “as referees looked the other waye. Anyone who survives in that league becomes a real player,” says Bilic.
Modric is quietly confident as to how the remainder of the group will go, and in particular the key contest with the Germans.
“We will beat Germany,” he insisted even before the Austria match.
Already, Modric has half an eye on the World Cup qualifiers when England will again be in the line of fire.
“Even the great (Fabio) Capello won't help them,” he maintains.
Returning to his more immediate Euro ambitions he says that “nobody was happy to see the Greeks” win four years ago and that this year's tournament must be “more fluid.”
It falls to the likes of himself to contribute materially to that end.
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