Luka Modric set for a last World Cup run with Croatia

Nov 21, 2022, 12:49 PM | Updated: Nov 22, 2022, 9:08 am
Croatia's Luka Modric is in action during the UEFA Nations League soccer match between Croatia and ...

Croatia's Luka Modric is in action during the UEFA Nations League soccer match between Croatia and Denmark at the Maksimir stadium in Zagreb, Croatia, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

(AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Luka Modric is set for one more World Cup campaign and one last chance to drive Croatia to the title.

The 37-year-old midfielder will lead Croatia when the team plays its Group F opener against Morocco on Wednesday, a hurdle that the 2018 runner-up is expected to clear before facing Canada and then second-ranked Belgium and Kevin de Bruyne.

Four years ago, Modric worked tirelessly and was rewarded with the tournament’s best player award as Croatia made it all the way to the final in Russia, where it lost to France 4-2. It’s laid similar expectations on a different, younger Croatian squad in Qatar, which hasn’t always been helpful, Modric said.

“Whatever we have been through at the World Cup in Russia is an unforgettable memory, an indelible memory,” Modric said Tuesday. “But we need to put it to one side for now. This is a new tournament and we have to look at it that way.”

Only five of the players who started the 2018 final are in this Croatia squad after coach Zlatko Dalic’s rebuild. The constant is Modric. He is at his fourth World Cup and still central to everything Croatia does. He’s arguably more important for his team’s chances than Lionel Messi for Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal, who are also chasing their first title at the back end of glittering careers.

But Messi’s experience earlier Tuesday, when Argentina lost to Saudi Arabia, has reinforced how dangerous it can be to look too far ahead.

“We are quite cautious and what’s happened today (Argentina’s loss) makes us even more cautious,” Dalic said.

It’ll be an early game against the Moroccans in Al Khor, north of Doha, where the temperature is forecast to push 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) by kickoff. That heat shouldn’t be an issue for Croatia against the North Africans, though, thanks to the cooling systems utilized at this year’s World Cup stadiums.

The climate in the Moroccan camp has also cooled considerably after a heated feud between former head coach Vahid Halilhodzic and Chelsea forward Hakim Ziyech. It saw Ziyech exiled from the squad last year over what Halilhodzic branded his “unacceptable” attitude.

It threatened to result in Morocco being without one of its best players for the World Cup when it desperately needs all its overseas-based talent. But Halilhodzic was fired despite qualifying Morocco for the World Cup and replaced with Walid Regragui, who immediately recalled Ziyech.

Ziyech scored an astonishing goal from his own half in Morocco’s last warmup before the World Cup.

“I know he’s going to do good things at this World Cup,” Morocco captain Romain Saiss said.

Modric and Dalic warned Ziyech wasn’t the only top-quality Morocco player, picking out wing back Achraf Hakimi and midfielder Sofiane Boufal as well.

For Morocco, the late coaching switch has made the World Cup possible for Ziyech but maybe made it harder for the team.

Regragui, who has never been an international coach before, was brought in at the end of August, giving him only two full months to put his mark on the team. That may not be enough time to get something special out of Morocco, which has only made it out the group stage once at a World Cup, in 1986.

However, Saudi Arabia has provided inspiration for every underdog at the World Cup, and special inspiration for the Moroccans. Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard used to be in charge of Morocco.

“It’s good to see things being shaken up,” Regragui said. “Football is for everyone.”


AP World Cup coverage: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Brazil's Neymar walks on the pitch during the World Cup group G soccer match between Brazil and Ser...
Associated Press

Neymar to miss Brazil’s last group game at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Neymar will miss Brazil’s last group game at the World Cup because of his right ankle injury, the team doctor said Tuesday. Rodrigo Lasmar said the Brazil forward will not be able to face Cameroon in the Group G game on Friday. Neymar missed Monday’s game against Switzerland, when Brazil won […]
1 day ago
A pitch invader runs across the field with a rainbow flag during the World Cup group H soccer match...
Associated Press

Protester with rainbow flag banned from World Cup matches

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The protester who ran onto the field during a World Cup match carrying a rainbow flag and wearing a blue Superman T-shirt with messages in support of Ukraine and Iranian women was banned Tuesday from attending any more matches during the tournament in Qatar. The World Cup organizing committee said in […]
1 day ago
FILE — Voria Ghafouri, right, fights for the ball with Iraqi midfielder Hussein Ali, during the A...
Associated Press

Iran releases soccer players ahead of match against US

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranian authorities said Tuesday that two former members of the national soccer team arrested this month in connection with nationwide protests have been released on bail. The announcement came hours before Iran was set to play the U.S. at the World Cup in a match that authorities are heavily […]
1 day ago
Cameroon's goalkeeper Andre Onana, left, saves a ball shot by Switzerland's Ruben Vargas, center ri...
Associated Press

Cameroon goalkeeper Onana leaves World Cup after dispute

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana apparently left the World Cup on Tuesday and was heading home after being dropped from the country’s squad for disciplinary reasons. A photo posted by a Cameroonian journalist on social media showed the Inter Milan goalkeeper at the airport in Doha and about to leave Qatar. […]
1 day ago
Associated Press correspondent Isabel DeBre films a selfie video in front of Lusail Stadium in Lusa...
Associated Press

4 World Cup matches in 1 day? An AP reporter’s challenge

LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — Qatar’s World Cup is the most compact in history, with all eight stadiums radiating from the capital city in a country smaller than the U.S. state of Connecticut and the two farthest stadiums barely 41 miles (66 kilometers) apart. That led to a question during the tournament’s group stage: Can a […]
1 day ago
Canada head coach John Herdman yells as Canada forward Alphonso Davies (19) looks on during the sec...
Associated Press

Canada heads home from the World Cup with work to be done

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — While Canada is understandably disappointed to be heading home following the World Cup’s group stage, in a way the team’s work is just beginning with an eye toward 2026. The Canadians will turn their attention to their preparation for the next World Cup, which they will co-host with the United States […]
1 day ago
Luka Modric set for a last World Cup run with Croatia