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Luka Modric touted to end Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi Ballon d’Or duopoly

Croatia’s run to the World Cup final is largely down to Luka Modric’s tireless work in midfield and he will be a tough contender for the Ballon d’Or title besides Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

football Updated: Jul 13, 2018 19:38 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Moscow
Luka Modric,Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi,Cristiano Ronaldo
Luka Modric will give Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi tough competition for the Ballon d’Or title. (REUTERS)

Shortly after leading Croatia to the final of the World Cup on Monday night, Luka Modric was asked about growing calls for him to be awarded the coveted Ballon d’Or this season.

“For me, it’s not important. I already said that. The only wish I have is to lift the cup for Croatia,” the Real Madrid midfielder told reporters at the mixed zone of the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Modric’s refusal to speak about his prospects for the award that celebrates individual brilliance in a team game notwithstanding, bookmakers on Thursday slashed odds for him to win the Ballon d’Or. He is now the second favourite behind former Real teammate Cristiano Ronaldo.

He is also being seen as one of the front-runners for the Golden Ball at this World Cup. As per the odds, it is likely to be a close contest between him and France starlet Kylian Mbappe for the bragging rights of being the best player of the tournament.

The calls for Modric for the Ballon d’Or, in particular, have grown with every Croatia game in Russia. Following Wednesday’s semi-final, Croatia great Davor Suker, Modric’s teammate Ivan Rakitic and Mexico’s Javier Hernandez joined a host of present and past stars to vouch for the diminutive midfielder.

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Over the past 10 years, the Ballon has become a Ronaldo-Lionel Messi duopoly. Ronaldo will be seen as the leading contender once again after Real Madrid’s Champions League hat-trick earlier this year.

But Modric has already made his case. During his first season at Real Madrid, he had been voted by readers of Marca as the club’s worst signing.

Five seasons since then, he has arguably been the best midfielder in the world, helping Real to four Champions League titles in that period.

But more than his exploits with his club, Modric’s feats with Croatia this summer will put him firmly among the top-most contenders for the Ballon.

At 5’8, he is not the tallest of players, nor is he among the most physically imposing but it is well nigh impossible to shake him off the ball.

Against Argentina in the group stages, Crotia allowed their opponents to have a larger share of the ball and then exposed the South American side through the channels.

Modric orchestrated his side’s game plan to perfection, pinging accurate deliveries for Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic and, later in the game, Andrej Kramaric to split open Argentina’s flanks.

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On Wednesday, he showed England what exactly they were lacking – a deep-lying playmaker of his ilk. As England tried to curtail the flow from the Croatia midfield, Modric moved to just in front of his team’s backline.

From there, he controlled the game in the second half using his expansive passing range and also helping Perisic thrive on the left flank.

It was the sort of performance that may not fetch plaudits as Ronaldo and Messi’s exploits do but that has always been the case with Modric.

He is the silent engine that has driven Real Madrid’s European machine in the last five years and is now on the verge of leading Croatia to an unprecedented World Cup triumph.

First Published: Jul 13, 2018 19:24 IST