Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic says Luka Modric will not retire from international football after the World Cup - and remains hopeful he could still be playing for his country four years from now.
Modric, 37, is due to make his 159th appearance for Croatia in tomorrow's last-16 meeting with Japan at the Al Janoub Stadium.
The Real Madrid midfielder is playing in his ninth major tournament for Croatia but Dalic expects the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner to carry on after the World Cup.
And he even believes Modric could still be available come the 2026 edition in the US, Canada and Mexico, by which time the player would be 40.
“I cannot compliment him enough,” the Croatia coach said. “This will not be his last tournament. His professionalism and continuing desire to work and self improve is unprecedented.
“We are a team made up of great individuals but all together we accomplish results, it’s not just about the likes of Luka and Josko Gvardiol on their own. We’ll need Luka for some time more in the future.
“When you come to a tournament with Modric, [Mateo] Kovacic and [Marcelo] Brozovic as your midfielders, half of your probs are resolved already and I really hope this is not his [Modric’s] last World Cup and I will be able to use him again in the future. Then our dreams would become true and only then.”
Modric said in recent days that his plan was to carry on playing for Croatia after the tournament. “No, I won't leave the national team,” he said. “I feel very fit, very good and I'll stay here until I can. There's no reason to retire. It's my choice. People say I should leave and focus on club football. I don't agree.”
Croatia 2022 World Cup squad
Goalkeepers: Dominik Livakovic, Ivica Ivusic, Ivo Grbic
Defenders: Domagoj Vida, Dejan Lovren, Borna Barisic, Josip Juranovic, Josko Gvardiol, Borna Sosa, Josip Stanisic , Martin Erlic, Josip Sutalo
Midfielders: Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic, Mario Pasalic, Nikola Vlasic, Lovro Majer, Kristijan Jakic, Luka Sucic
Forwards: Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric, Bruno Petkovic, Mislav Orsic, Ante Budimir, Marko Livaja
Who is their best player?
In a team studded with international standouts, such as Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic of Inter Milan, and Tottenham's Ivan Perisic, Luka Modric remains the brightest in the firmament.
A master of midfield alchemy and Champions League titleholder with Real Madrid, Modric, 37, is his country's most capped player, with 158 international appearances.
What are Croatia's fixtures?
Croatia will face Japan in the last 16 of the World Cup in Qatar. The match will be played at Al Janoub Stadium tomorrow (Monday, December 5) and will kick off at 3pm.
November 23: Morocco 0 Croatia 0
November 27: Croatia 4 Canada 1
December 1: Croatia 0 Belgium 0
What is Croatia's World Cup record?
Croatia have qualified for all but one of the World Cup tournaments held since their independence, in 2010, and their appearances are bookended by their standout finishes: third place at France 1998, which made them the highest-finishing debutants since Eusebio's Portugal in 1966, and runners-up in Russia 2018.
Modric was awarded the Golden Ball for best overall player of the tournament, with his performance in Russia contributing to his Ballon d'Or win later that year.
Argentina | Australia | Belgium | Brazil | Cameroon | Canada | Costa Rica | Croatia | Denmark | Ecuador | England | France | Germany | Ghana | Iran | Japan | Mexico | Morocco | Netherlands | Poland | Portugal | Qatar | Saudi Arabia | Senegal | Serbia | South Korea | Spain | Switzerland | Tunisia | Uruguay | USA | Wales
Croatia are currently a best price of 35/1 to win the World Cup.