DOHA ( Associated Press) — Argentina consistently proved an insurmountable obstacle for Croatia, who reached the World Cup semifinals and had just beaten Brazil.
Led by Lionel Messi, Argentina claimed a 3-0 win at the Lusail Stadium on Tuesday and were one step away from lifting the only major trophy that eluded them.
For Luka Modric, the indomitable Croatian midfielder, it could be his last chance to become world champion. The captain was substituted near the end and received a standing ovation from fans of both teams, a nice gesture towards a footballer like few others.
Croatia will have to battle France or Morocco for third place, but now is the time to look to a new generation.
Expectations VS. Result
Hardly anyone could have predicted that the team in the checkered jackets, having lost the final of the World Cup in Russia four years ago, was going to repeat that last time. More followed his debut with a 0–0 draw against Morocco.
As the tournament progressed, that result became acceptable. Morocco, after all, became the first African team to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup.
The greatest Croatian quality is their persistence, a team that came from behind to defeat Japan and Brazil on two separate penalties in the round of 16 and then in the quarter-finals.
But luck was also kind to him. Croatia could have gone home in the first round if striker Romelu Lukaku had capitalized on one of several chances in their 0-0 draw against Belgium in the Group F final.
The Croats weren’t the most attractive team in Qatar, winning only one of their six matches in 90 minutes or extra time, but they were a tough nut to crack and defy all expectations for a second World Cup in a row .
“They have achieved great things and they are the golden generation of Croatian football,” said coach Zlatko Dalić.
At 37, Modric has completed his last World Cup, but he is not out for the 2024 European Championships. Ivan Perisic and Dejan Lauren are 33 years old and Andrej Kramaric is 31 years old.
“Perhaps this is the end for a generation at the World Cup. Some are at an age that makes it difficult to reach the 2026 World Cup. We will see”, admitted Dalić. “I think many will say goodbye to Euro 2024.”
Dalic, who led Croatia to the final in Russia, plans to stay in charge.
“I will continue, I have a contract until Euro 2024,” he said. “I plan to qualify Croatia for Euro 2024.”
what will happen next
Central Josco Guardiola was one of the revelations of the World Cup and is in the orbit of many famous clubs in Europe. He looked powerless to stop Messi’s dribbling in Argentina’s third goal, but he appears as a key piece to the future of the selected team.
At 28, Mateo Kovacic is a fine veteran and is preparing to replace Modric in midfield.
The matchup for third place may be one of the most irrelevant matches in football, but Croatia takes it seriously.
“Winning the match means going back to Croatia with a medal,” Modric said. “We have to give everything to win the bronze medal and be able to celebrate with our fans once again.”
The Euro qualifiers are just around the corner, with matches against Wales and Turkey scheduled for March.