Many veterans went in the 2022 FIFA World Cup knowing that it would most likely be their final attempt at winning the prized trophy, including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and of course Luka Modric.
While Croatia came into the competition as last time out's runners-up, they were still deemed as 'past it' and 'too old' by many, and were not expected to shine in the same manner that they did in Russia back in 2018.
However, with a team filled with both seasoned veterans and upcoming stars, Croatia impressed yet again at the biggest stage in international football, going right up to the semi-finals of the World Cup, being knocked out by Messi's Argentina 3-0 on Tuesday. An emotional Modric was hauled off to a standing ovation towards the end of the game, leading to many to doubt whether we will be able to see him grace the international stage again.
At the end of the day, Croatia just seemed to run out of juice after dominating numerous games throughout the tournament, particularly due to their midfield trio of Modric, Mateo Kovacic, and Marcelo Brozovic, along with the defensive solidity of Josko Gvardiol and Dejan Lovren.
While the team was filled with stars, it was still Modric that shined the most, with the 37-year-old pulling the strings in the middle of the park, contributing across the midfield. Despite being the oldest player in the whole team, he played the sixth-most minutes in the squad, with his numbers only being bettered by Lovren, Dominik Livakovic, Josip Juranovic, Gvardiol, and Ivan Perisic.
Modric hasn't directly contributed to a goal via scoring or assisting yet (stats before third-place play-off and are via WhoScored), but he has still been vital going forward, registering an average of one key pass in every game (joint-third in the squad), 0.8 shots per game (fifth in the squad), 1.2 cross per game (second-best in the squad), and 0.8 dribbles per game (join-second in the squad). Impressive numbers for a winger or a forward, let alone for a central midfielder.
Defensively, he has been brilliant yet again, registering 2.3 tackles per game (third-best in the squad) and 1.3 interceptions per game (joint-first in the squad), encompassing his contributions across the whole pitch to Zlatko Dalic's team.
The Croatian ranked as the joint-second-best performing player in the whole squad, only being second to Livakovic, who stunned the world with his brilliant shot-stopping ability throughout the tournament. Not quite at the levels of his performances in 2018 when he was awarded the Golden Ball, but still brilliant overall.
Modric's ability was there for all to see, even at the ripe-old age of 37, going tirelessly up and down the pitch, exemplified by yet another wonderful performance against Argentina, despite the disappointing result.
There were downsides to his game, most notably his underwhelming set-piece deliveries, but it's safe to say that he offered much more to the team than he took out of it.
The 2018 Ballon d'Or winner and Croatia have long been the embodiment of exceeding expectations, and this World Cup has only continued to enhance his legacy and the nation's name in world football, not tarnish them. The international stage has not seen a midfielder quite like the Modric for a long time, and it has not seen such an impressive small nation like Croatia either.
Modric and Croatia will definitely be heading back home with their heads held high, but at the same time, it will feel like a missed opportunity, especially since the midfield seemed superior to that of Argentina for large parts of the game. The Real Madrid man played plenty of neat, one or two-touch passes with his fellow midfielders, highlighting the class at the middle of the park.
Whatever sort of style of play Croatia went for, Modric was always at the heart of it, either with quick passing, or else with a burst of speed that made people forget that he was one of the oldest players in the whole tournament.
Modric made his Croatia debut 16 years ago, and it seems like he has been here forever, but could it be the final time we have seen one of the best, if not the best ever midfielders walk out on a World Cup pitch?
Only time will tell, as at the end of the day, nothing is impossible for the sensational midfielder. We might even see him captain Croatia yet again in 2026, who knows.