By Peter Hall
GLASGOW (Reuters) - After ineffective performances in Croatia's first two Euro 2020 matches, it seemed Luka Modric's influence was on the wane, but the midfielder showed form is temporary and class permanent as he stepped up when his country needed him most.
The 35-year-old Croatia captain led his team out at a raucous Hampden Park on Tuesday for their winner-takes-all clash with Scotland, a place in the last 16 the prize on offer.
After an ordinary season with Real Madrid, the 2018 world player of the year failed to inspire his countrymen in their 1-0 defeat by England and he offered very little when in possession against Czech Republic on Friday.
As Scotland flew into tackles in the decisive group clash, roared on by a Glasgow crowd desperate to see their side reach the knockout stages of a major tournament for the first time, Modric was again quiet.
But as the game wore on and Scottish legs tired, Modric used all his experience and knowhow to slowly take control of the game and come good at exactly the right time.
As Croatia's 3-1 win lifted them to second in Group D, Modric almost single-handedly acted as the match conductor, completing more passes than any player on the pitch, more than double the number by any Scottish player.
Tellingly, Modric made 22 more passes than any other player in the opponent's half and at 1-1 the game needed someone to step up. The veteran obliged, handsomely.
The highlight was the goal that turned the tide in Croatia's favour. With the clash finely poised, the strike that ultimately sent Scotland crashing was a thing of beauty.
As Croatia slowly built possession on the edge of the box in the 62nd minute, the ball fell kindly for Modric, who used all his guile and ingenuity to curl the ball, with the outside of his foot, into the net.
"It is a pleasure to watch him," former Scotland striker Ally McCoist told ITV Sport.
Not done there, his pinpoint corner was flicked home by another ageing Croatia stalwart - Ivan Perisic - and the World Cup runners-up sailed through.
Their captain and midfield metronome may not be able to run every team ragged, or take every match by the scruff of the neck, but when it really matters, Modric showed he can still make all the difference.
(Reporting by Peter Hall, editing by Ed Osmond)