Luka Modric’s stunning winner against Turkey came after the midfielder admitted to one of his Croatia team-mates he felt more pressure playing for his country than for Real Madrid in two Champions League finals.
Modric’s 25-yard volley secured victory in their opening Group D match in Paris on Sunday. Before the kick-off, he told Vedran Corluka the expectation to perform meant he was more relaxed in last month’s triumphant European Cup final against Atlético Madrid, as well as in the 2014 final, when Real also defeated their city rivals.
The atmosphere at Parc des Princes was feverish throughout and Corluka said: “It means a lot to him [Modric]. We were just talking before the game when we saw our fans. It’s such a big pressure to play for your country, it’s ridiculous. He said: ‘I played the final of the Champions League and I feel it’s an easy game – when you play for your country people are unrealistic.’
“They expect from him miracles. Of course he wants to do even better than for Real Madrid. He’s playing in Real Madrid – second player or third player with [Gareth] Bale and [Cristiano] Ronaldo so you expect that [volley] from him. When you play with him, he’s just ridiculous. Even against Turkey he’s working so much for the team – in attack and defensively. He plays for Real Madrid, he’s one of the best midfielders in Europe.”
Croatia are being inspired by the vaunted 1998 vintage of Davor Suker, Slaven Bilic and Zvonimir Boban, who met Victor Petkovic’s players before the tournament to offer encouragement. Eighteen years ago, Suker and co reached the semi-finals of a World Cup also staged in France and Corluka, who completed the game against Turkey despite a head injury, stated that side continue to be the benchmark.
“They are the inspiration,” the defender said. “If you read Croatian newspapers they always say we need to do something so we can forget about them but that team was so good. We were talking with them before the tournament. They said nice words, they encouraged us to do big things. It was nice to see them and to speak with them and to know they have our back.
“It was Slaven, Suker, who is of course our president, Boban, every big star was there for our trip to France and said nice words so it was very encouraging for that.”
As well as Modric, the Croatia team also contain shining lights in Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic and Juventus’s Mario Manduzkic, but Corluka is reluctant to bill Petkovic’s side as better than Miroslav Blazevic’s 1998 vintage: “I [can] say it’s the best team because the players play in big clubs but compared to 1998 – some players there – Boban, [Robert] Prosinecki, Suker, [Aljosa] Asanovic, I think we need to eat a little bit more to come to that stage.”
Recollecting the 1998 semi-final in Paris, when Croatia lost 2-1 to France, Corluka, who is 30, said: “I was on the grass somewhere when Suker scored in the semi-final and then I turned my head around and I saw it’s 1-1 because [Lilian] Thuram equalised after 20 seconds. I remember when Prosinecki passed to Suker and he scored against Holland and we won third place and it is amazing to remember.
“I was in school, of course, but you know how is Croatia – even little kids and old people: everyone lives for football so you can imagine how it is now these days there. It is crazy and I hope everyone will get a little bit calmed down and don’t expect straightaway big things from us.
“The next game [on Friday] will be tough like this one. Czech Republic, they had a couple of great games in the qualifying group. They qualified I think they were second behind Iceland so we know they are a disciplined team but we will watch them [on Monday against Spain] and analyse them a little bit after.”
Corluka wants supporters to be soberer regarding expectations. “We are – a little bit – a nation who is unrealistic,” he said. “So we need to calm down a little bit and go step by step because we have a good team, good players but the other teams have as well so let’s calm down. It’s just one win and nothing special.”
The defender is also confident his head wound will not rule him out of Friday’s match. “It’s good. I got a couple of stitches but now it’s fine,” he insisted. “We had problem in the second half because every time I hit the ball with the head the blood started going again but now it’s OK. I think it will not be an issue.”
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