Luka Modric’s mediocre season at Real Madrid has raised doubts about his international place, but Croatia coach Igor Stimac says the midfielder will again be his driving force in this month’s World Cup qualifying matches.
Croatia, joint top of Scotland’s group alongside Belgium on ten points from four games, take on bitter rivals Serbia in Zagreb on 22 March and Wales in Swansea four days later.
Some pundits have said Modric should not be an automatic starter after failing to hold down a regular first-team place at Real. Stimac, though, praised his display as a second-half substitute in Tuesday’s Champions League victory at Manchester United.
“Modric did his talking on the pitch and silenced everyone who raised an issue where one wasn’t due,” Stimac told a news conference on Thursday. “We are very proud of him.
“His performance will lift the entire national team and not just him. He deserved the moment he enjoyed on such a big occasion and it will take a huge weight off his back, one he’s been carrying since he went to Madrid.”
Modric, who joined Real from Tottenham Hotspur in August, scored his team’s opening goal in the 2-1 win at United as the nine-times European champions went through 3-2 on aggregate.
Stimac named six strikers on Thursday in his 26-man squad for the games with Serbia and Wales. The match between the two former Yugoslav nations will be played under tight security. Fears of crowd trouble have been allayed after both football federations agreed not to take away fans to either fixture, with the reverse encounter set for Belgrade on 6 September.