AL RAYYAN, Qatar — In what may have been Luka Modric’s last World Cup match, Josko Gvardiol was Croatia’s next-choice prospect.
Modric has been Croatia’s center man for greater than a decade, main the crew to the World Cup last 4 years in the past and the semifinals of this yr’s match. However on the age of 37, his time on the prime is definitely coming to an finish.
Modrić was once more central to Croatia’s 2-1 win over Morocco to complete third on the World Cup on Saturday, nevertheless it was Gbardiol who got here from behind on the Khalifa Worldwide Stadium.
“We’re again,” stated Gvardiol, referring to Tuesday’s semifinal loss to Argentina. “We knew we needed to be centered and present grit. In the present day we proved that we deserve third place. We are going to rejoice and go residence.”
Carrying a black masks after struggling a damaged nostril in a Bundesliga match final month, Gvardiol is taking part in in a unique place and appears virtually twice the scale of a small quantity 10. However at 20, he is additionally virtually half Modric’s age. And when Croatia misplaced to France within the 2018 last simply 4 years in the past, he performs like a veteran, not somebody who was nonetheless in highschool.
Nicknamed ‘Little Pep’ for his resemblance to Manchester Metropolis supervisor Pep Guardiola, Gvardiol scored Croatia’s opening purpose with a diving header within the seventh minute of Saturday’s recreation.
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His head was additionally included on the different finish of the sphere. As a centre-back who performs proper behind Modric, Gvardiol is continually known as upon to dam Moroccan probabilities, clear the world from the crimson shirts and hold the ball out of his crew’s internet.
He did, and was named participant of the match for that.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic recalled Gvardiol’s spectacular presence all through the match in Qatar and stated the defender deserved to be named the World Cup’s finest younger participant.
“If he isn’t one of the best younger participant, he has to compete for one of the best younger participant,” Dalic stated. “Normally the highest scorer ahead will get this award, however Josco has confirmed that defenders deserve it and I believe he deserves it.”
At 6ft 1in, Gvardiol is simply 5 inches taller than Modrić, however has proven he can fill a giant area in Croatia’s protection and transfer like a smaller participant.
Within the second half, Gbardiol, who ran by way of the middle of the sphere with the ball at his ft, handed solely the goalkeeper and crossed over to the alternative penalty space. Nonetheless, Moroccan midfielder Sofian Amrabat appeared to chop off Gbardiol’s left foot. He got here down in a heap and known as for a penalty kick, however the referee did not settle for it.
The large man within the black masks wasn’t completely satisfied. He rejoined the play on the opposite facet, sitting on the grass together with his arms outstretched, and instantly jumped up and tried to go a harmful ball in entrance of his personal purpose.
“I believe there was a contact there”, Gvardiol stated of the doable penalty. “I’m a defender. Not realizing the way to fall is the worst half.”
Gvardiol has been the centerpiece of Croatia’s robust protection from the beginning in Qatar, with the crew conceding only one purpose of their three group matches. They continued that stingy play into the knockout rounds till they had been loosened up with a 3–0 loss to Argentina within the semifinals.
Regardless of Dalic’s phrases, Gvardiol was not serious about particular person prizes, preferring as an alternative to win one thing together with his teammates.
“I am not serious about these awards for one of the best younger gamers,” stated Gvardiol. “All I care about is the bronze medal and I made my dream come true.”
Gvardiol took half within the World Cup after not too long ago extending a contract with German membership Leipzig that might tie him to the crew till 2027. weeks.
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