Modric the winner of four Champions League titles with Real Madrid will play the biggest match of his life against France.
Croatia have no major injury concerns going into Sunday’s World Cup final despite having played three 120-minute matches and are looking forward to a seismic event for the small Balkan nation, coach Zlatko Dalic said on Saturday.
The Croatians needed penalties to beat Denmark in the round of 16 and Russia in the quarter-finals and extra time to edge England in the last four. Forward Mario Mandzukic and defender Ivan Strinic had to be taken off injured late in that game.
Dalic said that despite five players missing Friday’s training all his group were fit.
“Tomorrow is the World Cup final. The players know what that means. One thing that makes me happy is that all my players tell me whether they are not 100 percent,” Dalic told reporters.
“If they will be unable to give their all during the match I expect them to tell us.”
Croatia played a total of 90 minutes longer than France in their three knockout matches and have also had one fewer rest day than their opponents ahead of the final at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
“We did not insist on practice sessions. We have nothing to practise. We need relaxation and rest. We have some minor injuries but I hope we will overcome those today and all my players will be ready to play,” the 51-year-old said.
“We created such a group where they will concede and will say ‘I have to miss the final’. If they are not ready we have great players on the bench who are rearing to go.”
This is Croatia’s first final in a major tournament and Dalic said that while he was not getting the full picture of the celebrations back home, he knew that for his players, many of whom have won the biggest prizes in club football, this was the greatest match of their career.
“Win or lose tomorrow there will be a seismic event (in Croatia). This gives us strength and motivation.
“There can be no better moment for a player or a coach than tomorrow. Whatever happens, we will be happy and proud because we deserved it.”
The 1998 World Cup semifinal defeat to France and Croatia’s failure to beat the French in all of their five previous encounters also meant nothing to Dalic and his players.
“I do not give much thought to statistics and tradition and to head-to-head,” Dalic said. Traditions are there to be demolished.
“Tomorrow is the final. We don’t care who is on the other side of the pitch. We are here to enjoy the final and give our best.”
I’m the little man who can, says Modric
Croatia captain Luka Modric says determination and self-belief were always more important than physical stature in football and that will be as true in Sunday’s World Cup final as in any other match.
At 1.72 metres (5ft 8in) and 66kg (146 lbs), the Croatia playmaker can cut a diminutive figure on the pitch but he has few rivals when it comes to skill, game-management and stamina.
On Sunday, the winner of four Champions League titles with Real Madrid will play the biggest match of his life against France and size will be the last thing on his mind.
“I’ve always ignored such talk,” he told reporters on the eve of his nation’s first World Cup final.
“I have never doubted myself even if others did, I always believed I could get to where I am today and thank God this came true.
“You don’t have to be a giant to play football, I’m happy with where I am. I am happy with where I am and I never cared what anyone else said, it only further motivated me.”
France will be clear favourites to win a second World Cup at the Luzhniki Stadium and Croatia will be relying on the resilience that got them through three lots of extra time and two penalty shootouts in their knockout matches.
Many of this generation of Croatian players grew up during the war following the break-up of Yugoslavia, however, and that have given them a mental toughness.
“I’ve seen a great deal of hardship in my life,” added Modric, who lived in refugee hostels for several years as a child.
“The most important thing is to never give up, never give in to circumstances, believe yourself and to soldier on no matter what’s in your way.
“There are ups and downs but whatever happens, you have to trust and believe in yourself.
“Fight for your dreams and success. This is what has always guided me.”
Despite all the talent in their ranks, Croatia’s place at the World Cup was in jeopardy as late as last October when Zlatko Dalic took over and Modric paid tribute to the impact the coach has had on the team.
“We are in the World Cup final, that was the influence of the coach,” the 32-year-old said.
“He came into the picture at a very difficult moment … In the first game, he talked us up to give us self-belief and told us we were still good players despite this crisis.
“He brought us calmness, he perked us up and what we most like is his sincerity and his attitude towards each and every player. We like having him around, he’s shown his influence, not just as a coach but more importantly as a human being.”