This may have been the last time we see Luka Modrić in a major international competition. And for the venerated Real Madrid midfielder who helped his country to back-to-back World Cup semifinals, it ran the full gamut of emotions.

Modrić was presented with a golden opportunity to lift Croatia into a 1-0 lead over Italy in a must-win Group B finale after receiving a penalty opportunity in 54th minute. 

But his shot towards the bottom right corner of the goal was parried away by Gianluigi Donnarumma, the Italy keeper and Euro 2020 hero who continued his stellar Euro 2024.

As Melissa Ortiz put it on “FOX Soccer NOW” postgame show, there’s no pain that’s worse than blundering an opportunity to put your group ahead in a much-needed game like that.

The “beautiful game,” though, often presents beautiful chances to rebound from mistakes. Modrić’s came just a minute later, as Croatia regained possession of the ball and played it back into the box for an attempt on goal. Donnarumma stopped that shot too, but Modrić was in prime position for the deflected ball, and rifled a tough shot into the upper left corner of the net.

Luka Modric becomes oldest goal scorer at Euros, gives Croatia 1-0 lead vs. Italy

Modrić’s goal caused a seismic eruption in Leipzig Stadium among the Croatian faithful, who lavished him with immense praise when he was subbed off the pitch in the 80th. But in the final minute of stoppage time, it was Italy who clamored in celebration following the first international goal of Mattia Zaccagni’s career.

The 1-1 final marked potentially the last international appearance for the legendary 38-year-old, who became the oldest player (38 years, 289 days) to score a goal in Euro history. 

Croatia would have moved into second place in Group B and automatic qualification in the knockout stage with a win, but thanks to Zaccagni’s goal, Italy secured that spot instead. Croatia now faces an uphill battle to be one of the four third-place teams with a spot in the knockouts, meaning Modrić may have represented his country for the last time on a major international stage.

Ortiz was conflicted about the realization of that reality.

“On one side of me, I’m happy that he was able to end it somewhat on a personal, individual high note, but as a team, it’s a little bit saddening to see that such a legend is [likely] not moving on,” Ortiz said. “But at the same time, we were able to enjoy him, and he was able to win a Ballon d’Or in 2018, get very far in World Cups. 

“It just speaks wonders about the player that he is, that he was, that he’ll continue to be at Real Madrid. Everybody’s applauding him because no matter if you’re not a Croatian fan, you’re still a fan of Luka Modrić.”

Jimmy Conrad concluded that Modric had authored one of the best international careers ever — should this be it for him.

“From my personal belief, he’s one of the best winners of this generation,” Conrad said. “Obviously a serial winner with Real Madrid, and took Croatia to great heights, heights they could’ve never imagined getting to — a World Cup final [in 2018] — it’s ridiculous. It’s a country of three million people, and I think he symbolizes what they’re about: The perseverance, the hard work, fighting through adversity. They’re gonna have to do it once again whether he’s on the team or not.  

“I think what I love about Luka Modrić is he epitomizes what I love about the beautiful game overall. You can be any shape or size and have success. You don’t have to be this big 7-foot, 6-foot-8 guy, super muscly to have success.”

Former Leicester City captain Wes Morgan never got the chance to play against Modrić, but that doesn’t take away from his appreciation for his game.

“Watching him at Tottenham, what a magnificent player,” Morgan said. “So much elegance and grace on the pitch, the way he flowed, the way he got on the ball, I think players playing in opposition can learn so much in terms of how to receive, how to turn. … The qualities he had with his short-range, midrange, long-range passing, his creativity, the right weight of pass. Complete footballer, despite what’s happened tonight, you know his legacy’s cemented, and I think all Modrić fans would love to see him go further in this competition, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

However, Morgan was adamant that he’d love to see Modrić remain present in the sport like plenty of Real Madrid legends before him.

“In terms of his future, who knows what happens next?” Morgan said. “Internationally, probably could be over but we’d love to see him in some type of capacity in the game still, whether it be on the pitch or off the pitch.”

Modrić has recorded 178 appearances for Croatia since 2006, and has scored 26 goals. He led the squad to a second-place finish at the 2018 World Cup and in the 2023 UEFA Nations League, as well as a third-place in the 2022 World Cup.

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Luka Modric

Luka Modric


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