It wasn’t the best night for Luka Modric, who probably played his final (who knows?) World Cup game today. Croatia fell behind in the 34th minute and again in the 39th.
And, as much as Croatia has enjoyed conceding first in this tournament before fighting back to win, doing so today against an excellent Argentina counter-attack, as well as one of the finest defensive lines in the World Cup, was a lot to ask.
If there’s any comfort to him — and it probably isn’t — Modric did his job, and Croatia controlled the middle of the park for the majority of the first half. The midfield three — Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic, and Luka Modric — all controlled the tempo and worked together to advance the ball.
The unravelling, though, began with defensive blunders and a dismal offensive line. The days of dependable finishers like Mario Mandzukic and Davor Suker are long gone. Croatia held possession of the ball, but struggled to create significant opportunities in the area and lacked finishers or dribblers to capitalise on the vertical play.
There was argument about whether Argentina’s penalty was a penalty or not, but the conversation should’ve been about how easy Croatia conceded that goal in the first place – with Dejan Lovren missing a ball and failing to react in time. Livakovic was left to his own devices.
Croatia was still in the contest at that moment, but they didn’t stay in it for long. They overcommitted people on a set-piece five minutes later, and the defence in transition was poor as Julian Alvarez surged through wonderfully while chewing up the unsuccessful clearances.
It didn’t help that Croatia lost Brozovic early in the second half due to injury, and Dalic’s players established a double pivot in Modric and Kovacic. That change wasn’t a significant issue because they could still hold and advance the ball, but they also lost an extra defensive shield in transition, and inserting Bruno Petkovic immediately ahead of them in midfield didn’t aid the attack much. Lovren had Croatia’s best opportunities in the second half. Unideal.
Lionel Messi dismantled Josko Gvardiol, setting up Alvarez to make it 3 – 0.
Modric got 93 touches on the ball in a losing cause, two vital passes, and several key interceptions in midfield.
In the 80th minute, he was given a standing ovation while coming off.