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13th Dec 2022

Roy Keane pays fitting tribute to Luka Modric before heartbreaking tunnel scenes

Patrick McCarry

“He’s gone up so many levels.”

Tuesday night at the Lusail Stadium was where Luka Modric ran into his old El Clásico foe, Lionel Messi.

Every football fan with even a passing knowledge of the game recognised that only one modern-day legend could walk out of this evening’s World Cup semi-final and be just one more step from claiming the ultimate prize.

Luka Modric was good, tonight, but Lionel Messi was untouchable.

The Argentina captain scored from the penalty spot and set up two goals from Julian Alvarez, the second assist being something we will see on replay after replay, over the coming months, years and decades.

Following Argentina’s 3-0 win over Croatia, Roy Keane and the ITV panel spent a big chunk of time paying tribute to Lionel Messi, his teammates and their 44-year-old boss Lionel Scaloni. The former Manchester United and Ireland captain did find time, as he did before the match, to tell the world how highly he thought of Modric.

Luka Modric(Photo by Luka Stanzl/Pixsell/MB Media/Getty Images)

Roy Keane on Luka Modric

A sizeable portion of the pre-game chat, and focus, on ITV was 37-year-old Luka Modric taking on 35-year-old Lionel Messi for a chance of a last dance in a World Cup final.

The pair first faced each other on the international stage in 2006, and have crossed paths frequently ever since Modric joined Real Madrid, from Tottenham, and took his talents to La Liga.

“Amazing,” Roy Keane gushed. “What an amazing player.

“Watched him at Spurs and, when he left, I thought, ‘He’s got a lot to do, this lad, going to Real Madrid’. But he’s gone up so many levels. I can’t believe it, honestly.

“It’s brilliant to see it – his consistency, week-in, week-out, at international level. His calmness when you watch him on the ball. He’s one of those players you’d happily go pay to watch.”

For the opening half-hour of the World Cup, all of those Luka Modric qualities were on top-shelf display. Croatia, with their three-man centre midfield combination, looked the more crisp and composed. At one stage, Modric was required to defend after a set-piece went awry and he found himself running 80 metres to cover in at right back and make a headed clearance. He was playing to his usual high standards.

However, when Julian Alvarez was felled for a penalty that Messi duly converted, Argentina kicked into another gear. A second goal followed after a direct Alvarez run combined with poor Croatian defending. Mwssi and Alvarez linked up for the third goal dagger, and Modric was brought off with 10 minutes to play.

Following the game, Keane and fellow ITV pundits Gary Neville and Ian Wright saluted Modric for his World Cup performances while professing this was a night when it looked as though Messi was well aware of his footballing destiny.

The two veterans hugged each other, out on the pitch, and Angel Di Maria sought out Modric to commiserate, too.

FIFA’s official broadcast followed Modric up the tunnel, towards the changing rooms, and caught Argentina legend Sergio Aguero stop him for a hug, and a few words. For Croatian fans, and many others, seeing Modric so despondent, and empty, would have been heartbreaking. Unlike Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and others, though, there were no tears.

Luke Modric has played 160 games for Croatia now, stretching back to his debut in 2006. Game No.161 could follow in the 3rd/4th place playoff, then questions will linger about his future in international football.

He will be 38 when Euro 2024 rolls around, so do not rule that out as a swan song. The 2026 World Cup is surely too far, and too much, even for a player that makes it look as effortless as Luke Modric.

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