Modric's drive and invention at the heart of Croatia's World Cup run
ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP / Getty

Luka Modric has done everything for Croatia at the 2018 World Cup. He's played more minutes, covered more ground, attempted more passes, and scored more goals than any of his countrymen.

He also showed mental strength when others would have faltered. Modric didn't cower after missing a penalty in extra time against Denmark, converting in the shootout mere minutes later.

"Can you imagine what would have happened had he not scored?" head coach Zlatko Dalic posited afterward.

That determination has powered Croatia to the semi-finals of a World Cup for just the second time in history. Modric has inspired his teammates along the way, providing an extra push for a team that's gone the distance in each of its knockout fixtures thus far.

He's always been recognised as a midfielder with silky smooth passing and 20-20 vision, but his application off the ball has been just as important. Modric has hounded ball-carriers, intercepted passes, and blocked shots at this tournament with gusto, and in the quarter-finals against Russia, while clearly battling fatigue, he continued to attack space.

Modric even upstaged Lionel Messi in the group stage, scoring the kind of goal that usually comes off the 31-year-old's boot. He bypassed Argentina's press with a fantastic range of passes and played his part in the defensive third.

His performances have indicated not just a commitment to the national team, but a desperation to succeed. At 32 years old, Modric likely senses that this World Cup is his last chance to immortalise Croatia's so-called golden generation. He's initiated moves from deep in midfield - sometimes collecting the ball at the right-back position - and pushed from there. He always wants a say in the build-up play.

That initiative was on display against the Russians. Faced with two banks of four and a ferocious press, Modric came up for air in his own half, knowing he would have more time and space on the ball. And his plan worked. He accelerated into open pockets and faked a few defenders along the way. He was doing the things Messi only tried to do at this World Cup, driving through midfield to create something out of nothing.

It's no surprise Modric has earned three Man of the Match awards for his efforts. He's pulled Croatia to the semi-finals by sheer force of will. Whether or not the country achieves ultimate glory, he'll leave the 2018 World Cup with more respect than ever before.

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Modric's drive and invention at the heart of Croatia's World Cup run
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