A Luka Modric masterclass ensured safe passage to the last 16 of Euro 2020 for Croatia, the Real Madrid star’s effortless brilliance proving too much for a Scotland side who fought gamely but were outclassed 3-1 by one of the best midfielders of his generation.
Modric, who sank to his knees at full time having single-handedly taken the World Cup runners-up to the knockout stages, ran the show at Hampden Park, scoring a magnificent second and setting up the third for Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic, after Nikola Vlasic had opened the scoring. John McGinn equalised for the Scots on the stroke of half time but it wasn’t enough to keep the diminutive magician at bay for long.
Modric is that rarest of beasts. At 35, he continues to produce performances of supreme grace, his combination of perfect technique and proof that age need not be anything more than a number. Group runners-up Croatia will face the second-placed team in Group E, one of Poland, Spain, Sweden or Slovakia who play on Wednesday night.
Scotland’s first tournament finals appearance for 23 years ended, but Steve Clarke’s side earned credit for a tireless display and will take memories of Billy Gilmour’s first senior start against England forward. In truth, Scotland went to direct in the Chelsea midfielder’s absence and struggled to keep the ball.
With adopted anthem ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ echoing from every corner of Hampden Park, Scotland started brightly. After six minutes, John McGinn cut on to his right foot from an inside left position to curl a delicious cross into the box which Croatia keeper Dominik Livakovic did well to shovel to safety, as Scottish revolutionary Che Adams lay in predatory wait. Moments later, Adams curled a fine effort wide from distance.
The World Cup runners-up popped the atmosphere in the 17th minute. Croatia right back Josip Juranovic swung in a fine back-post cross, where Ivan Perisic towered over Stephen O’Donnell to nod down for former Everton striker Nikola Vlasic.
Turning the screw, Modric’s shot from distance was tipped over by Marshall, but the diminutive Real Madrid schemer – whose smooth style resembles a conductor wafting his way through a symphony – was afforded on the edge of the box was a worry.
Though Croatia continued to dominate possession, Scotland weren’t without their chances, with Aston Villa playmaker McGinn again to the fore. A busy midfielder with a sizeable rump, the 26-year-old twice found space in the Croatia box, but was unable to to test keeper Livakovic.
Then, with three minutes of the first half remaining, Scotland got the goal their first-half display didn’t really deserve. Andy Robertson crossed from the left, Adams forced Dejan Lovren into a hurried clearance, which Callum McGregor controlled superbly before dispatching a crisp strike low and hard to Livakovic’s right.
Greeted with a spine-tingling rendition of ‘Flower of Scotland’ at the start of the second half – after Hampden Park’s big screens had shown highlights to a soundtrack of The Proclaimers throughout half time – the hosts resumed with purpose after the interval. Goalkeeper David Marshall was certainly inspired, springing off his line to smother the advancing left back Josko Gvardiol who tried to latch on to Vlasic’s fine through ball.
On the hour, McGinn had his third – and best – chance of the evening. Ghosting in at the back post, McGinn attacked Stuart Armstrong’s inswinging cross from the right with his left foot, when his weaker side may have been brought a better result.
Two minutes later, Modric made Scotland pay. Dinamo Zagreb left back Gvardiol – a 19-year-old who has been impressive throughout and will soon attract admiring glances – zipped a low cross into centre forward Bruno Petkovic’s feet, who killed the ball dead and set back to Mateo Kovacic. The Chelsea midfielder fed his skipper, lurking with laconic intent on the edge of the area, who curled a magnificent effort with an insouciant swing of the outside of his right foot past keeper Marshall’s despairing dive. It was the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner in microcosm – sumptuous, effective and utterly brilliant.
With 15 minutes to go, Ivan Perisic put the game to bed. The 29-year-old Inter Milan forward rose highest to meet Modric’s inswinging corner and score his 30th international goal.
Further glory may lie in wait for the great midfielder survivor.
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