Sport

Thursday, December 08, 2022 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.

Sport

Croatia’s midfielder Luka Modric (left) joins teammates in a training session at the Al Erssal training site in Doha, yesterday. (AFP)

Croatia’s conductor Modric in last World Cup appearance

Luka Modric said before arriving in Qatar that this World Cup would likely be his last major tournament and he has again orchestrated another deep run for Croatia.The veteran midfielder’s side will face their biggest challenge yet when they take on Brazil in the quarter-finals tomorrow.The five-time champions sent out a warning to their fellow title hopefuls with a wonderful first-half display in their 4-1 victory over South Korea in the last 16.But Croatia, the 2018 World Cup finalists, are likely to pose a far tougher test for the Selecao — seven of their past eight major tournament knockout ties have gone to extra-time.Modric is still the heartbeat of the team and coach Zlatko Dalic has said he expects the 37-year-old to be involved at next year’s Nations League finals.But the Real Madrid midfielder does not see himself playing at a fifth World Cup, 20 years after his first, in 2026 in the United States, Canada and Mexico.“I’m aware that I’m of a certain age and that this is my last competition in the Croatian national team,” he told FIFA before the tournament.Modric still toils selflessly in midfield but was clearly fading when he was substituted in extra-time of Croatia’s last-16 win over Japan on penalties.The Balkan nation will be counting on him to dig deep again, though, as he looks to replicate the form that helped Croatia reach the final in Moscow in 2018, where they lost 4-2 to France.“When you see people like Luka Modric running and dying on the pitch, it gives us younger players extra energy to run,” said full-back Josip Juranovic.Modric is a hero in his home nation after a 16-year international career in which he has made 159 appearances.His trophy cabinet includes five Champions League titles with Real Madrid.HUMBLE BEGINNINGSModric broke Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s 10-year grip on the Ballon d’Or in 2018, when he also won the World Cup player of the tournament award.Modric grew up during Croatia’s war of independence, between 1991 and 1995, during which his hometown, Zadar, and the surrounding region were heavily shelled by Serb forces.Those experiences shaped Modric’s character and made him mentally strong, according to those close to him.“It happened a million times that we were going to training as the shells were falling, and we were running to shelters,” said childhood friend Marijan Buljat, who trained and played with Modric while growing up.“It is certainly one of the factors that contributed...that drove him to become one of the best in the world.”Modric’s grandfather, after whom Luka was named, was killed by Serb forces, the house was burned out and the family fled to Zadar, 40 kilometres away. “I’m sad that he (grandfather) didn’t get to see at least something of what I’ve achieved,” Modric told FIFA.It was in Zadar that Modric, born in 1985, began his footballing odyssey, catching the eye.“I heard about a little hyperactive boy constantly playing with a football in the corridor of a refugee hotel, even going to sleep with it,” said Josip Bajlo, who was then coach at NK Zadar.Modric left Zadar as a teenager for Dinamo Zagreb and moved to Premier League club Tottenham in 2008, where he stayed for four years before moving to Spain.Trees now grow inside the roofless ruin of his grandparents’ house, in the hinterland of the coastal town of Zadar.“Mines — Keep out!” warns a sign next to the house, lying on a mountain road winding through the Modrici hamlet.Its most famous son will be hoping to extend his final bid for World Cup glory tomorrow.

Gulf Times

How do you stop Mbappe? England wrestle with World Cup conundrum

England manager Gareth Southgate is wrestling with the biggest dilemma of his reign as he tries to plot a way to stop the "sensational" Kylian Mbappe in Saturday's World Cup quarter-final.Southgate's hopes of leading England to a third successive semi-final at major tournaments hinge on finding a solution to a problem that has proved impossible for any team to solve in Qatar.Just how do you subdue a player with Mbappe's lethal combination of electric pace, balletic skill and clinical finishing?Australia, Denmark and Poland failed to come up with an appropriate answer as Mbappe scored in his three starts on route to the quarter-finals.Poland defender Matty Cash summed up the conundrum posed by Mbappe after the Paris Saint-Germain forward's brilliant two goals in France's 3-1 last-16 victory on Sunday."I didn't know whether to drop off or go tight," Cash said. "When I went tight he just spun in behind. When he gets the ball, stops and moves, he's the quickest thing I've ever seen."He's a different level. Speed, movement, look at his finishing. He's got everything."Four years after playing a key role in France's World Cup triumph in Russia, Mbappe is the tournament's most feared player.The 23-year-old already has five goals in four games in Qatar, while his haul of nine career World Cup goals puts him level with Argentina's Lionel Messi and one ahead of Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo.Now it is Southgate's turn to sit the daunting Mbappe exam."Look, he is a world-class player who is always producing the moments when they are needed. That is what those top players do. That is the challenge we face," Southgate said.So what will Southgate do to combat Mbappe's threat?One answer would be to switch England's 4-3-3 formation to a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 system, which would allow Kyle Walker to move from right back to supplement the central defence.Southgate's concern is to avoid a situation in which the pacy Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele can run at defender Harry Maguire and exploit his lack of speed.'Burning my legs'Moving Walker would give Maguire help but it would also leave Southgate open to fresh claims he is a negative coach more concerned with stifling the opposition than letting his own stars express themselves.Southgate was heavily criticised after his return to a 3-4-3 formation in the Euro 2020 final against Italy produced a tepid display that ended in a penalty shoot-out defeat.Instead of changing his formation, Southgate may take inspiration from Walker's role in Manchester City's Champions League semi-final first-leg win over Mbappe's PSG last year.City boss Pep Guardiola asked Walker to muzzle Mbappe from right-back and he responded with a disciplined display that kept the star from scoring."I can't think of another right-back in the world that I'd want to put up against him," former England defender Gary Neville said of Walker's chances of subduing Mbappe."Kyle will go closer to him, he has more pace than the Polish defenders. That's not to say Kyle will mark him out of the game. This is a sensational player, the new best player in the world."As well as Walker winning his one-on-one duels with Mbappe, Neville believes it is essential to reduce his service from Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann."If they can stop the service to Giroud and Griezmann in that central area, it means Mbappe's receiving far less dangerous passes," Neville said.But no matter how much England plan for Mbappe, Cash knows from painful experience that nothing can truly prepare them to face such a unique talent."I spent the afternoon watching his clips, but I'm watching the videos while lying in bed. In real life, he's burning my legs, that's the difference, he said.

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