- Croatia enjoying their best World Cup for 20 years
- Modric lets go of decade-old penalty pain
- "To win the World Cup almost unthinkable, like a beautiful fairy tale!"
By Vjekoslav Paun with Croatia
New life has been breathed into Croatia after their penalty shoot-out win over Denmark. One player more than most, their talisman, who finally exorcised the ghosts of UEFA EURO 2008 in Vienna ten years ago.
Luka Modric is a world-renowned footballing magician, capable of staggering on-lookers with his technical talent. But his magic touch wavered during their round-of-16 game. The pressure weighing on this special generation was huge, and particularly on him.
"Since 2008 we have never gone beyond this first knockout game and it was very important for us to get that monkey off our back,” Modric told FIFA, who missed the opening penalty in their shootout defeat to Turkey a decade ago.
"We have secured a great result after many years of trying and that means a lot to me. I've been in this team since 2008 and we have experienced several unlucky defeats in that time, particularly against Turkey and Portugal [at EURO 2016]. We needed some luck this time and I think we deserved it"
With five minutes of extra-time remaining Modric had the chance to end things early, standing over a penalty to put Croatia 2-1 up. He froze for a while, before composing himself, but Schmeichel saved it. Just 15 minutes later, he picked up the ball to face him again, firing straight down the middle this time, and finally succeeded.
"I was calm and focused. I embraced the responsibility as a captain and I had to do it. As a result I was very emotional after the game. I wanted this Croatia to confirm their talent, to take that step further. The game was not an enjoyable one, but our goal was achieved".
Looking ahead, the host nation has overcome long odds to reach this point as the lowest-ranked team in the entire tournament. The organisation and attitude shown by Russia's team were of the utmost importance in limiting Spain's potential as they earned their own triumph on penalties. The same scenario and against Croatia?
"Yes, I expect a similar tactic. Russia are very uncomfortable [to play against]. They run a lot and are very well organised. They deserve to be in quarter finals and will certainly be looking for their chance to progress. Facing Russia and their fans is going to be a spectacle," the Real Madrid man said.
While Luka has enjoyed being a part of this World Cup, he has another, bigger, dream.
"To be at this World Cup is a great privilege. Playing for my team is a great honour and a pleasure, but to win the World Cup with Croatia is almost unthinkable, like the most beautiful fairy tale! It would be incredible to lift the trophy as captain."