(Persia Digest) - ESPN writes that Terabytes of digital storage have been devoted to the fact that this might be, if not the last World Cup for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, then certainly the last one with a realistic chance to win at as headliners. (Not pointing fingers, I wrote one of those pieces, too.)
But the game doesn't exist up just in the rarefied atmosphere those two inhabit. There's a level not that far below, inhabited by folks who might not be GOAT candidates but nevertheless dare to dream and do not place limits on what they and their teammates might achieve.
That's where Luka Modric lives. Odds are, nobody outside of Croatia has written paeans about this being his final World Cup -- he'll be 37 when Qatar 2022 rolls around -- but in his own way he had to come to terms with it, just like Messi and Ronaldo. And while he knew what his head told him -- Croatia might get out of the group, but their run would likely end in the round of 16, maybe the quarterfinals -- he was still going to believe in the seemingly impossible. Because, otherwise, why even both showing up?
This is the World Cup. This is a chance to sear memories into the hearts and minds of people around the world, particularly his people, both back home and in the global Croat diaspora. This is something that no amount of European Cups (and, remember, he has four of them at home) can compare to.
Sunday's game was stuck at 1-1 and there was little of the creative, free-flowing Croatia we had seen in previous outings. Age Hareide's Denmark had shackled them and turned the game distinctly uncomfortable after the early exchange of goals. In fact, relative to the previous outings, it was about as comfortable as being stuck in an economy-class seat with your leg in a cast for a flight from L.A. to Sydney and the full collection of Lars von Trier's work playing on the in-flight entertainment system.
"Nobody had a good time during that game," Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic said. "Not me on the sidelines, not the players on the pitch, not the fans in the stands, not the millions watching at home. Nobody."
And so you can only imagine Modric's heart jumping when, four minutes from the end of extra time, he spotted the opening. The sort of opening only those like him can see and, especially, the ones only those like him can see so early. A weighted vertical pass up the gut for Ante Rebic's legs, even after nearly two solid hours of football to find the extra kick to latch on to, and suddenly his teammate is one-on-one with the big yellow cloud otherwise known as Kasper Schmeichel.
Rebic's shimmy and swerve put Schmeichel on his backside and, just as he was about to shoot, Mathias Jorgensen's desperate tackle sent Rebic tumbling to the ground. Stonewall penalty.
Yes, this is it. It is meant to be.
Modric trotted to the spot, and after a brief run-up, screwed his spot kick into Schmeichel's large frame. The chance was gone.
It is not meant to be.
"We all thought back to 2008 and that match with Turkey in Vienna," Dalic said afterward.