On Thursday Brazil play Croatia in the opening match of the 2014 World Cup, in Group A, and the hosts will be looking to give a good account of themselves. Brazil are under a lot of pressure from the home support and therefore will want to put on a good performance.
Playing the hosts in the opening game is a hard task for any nation but the Croatian fans will be hoping their players won’t baulk under the pressure of the opening game.
One of the men who the Croatians will look too to lead their team will be Real Madrid central midfielder Luka Modric. When Modric moved to Real Madrid in 2012 there was an air of excitement surrounding his transfer, but that quickly turned sour. Real Madrid fans weren’t impressed with his initial performances and he was voted the worst signing of the summer.
However this season Modric has won over the Madrid fans with a series of excellent performances. Early on in the campaign Carlo Ancelotti experimented with a 4-2-3-1 formation but he quickly decided that a 4-3-3 was the best way to get the most out of his two star players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
It was also a great help to Modric who thrived in the centre of midfield alongside Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria. Whilst Alonso sat deepest Modric and Di Maria were given freer roles allowed to demonstrate their attacking instincts whilst remaining defensively responsible at the same time. Modric plays his role within the Madrid side perfectly but for Croatia he will probably have a slightly different role.
In the absence of a true holding midfielder Modric will be asked to sit deeper than the likes of Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic. His responsibility against Brazil will be to track the runs of the likes of Oscar and ensure he doesn’t get too much space in and around the penalty area. It may seem a strange request of Modric but whilst it isn’t his natural role it is one he can play to a good effect. This season he has won 53 tackles and completed 58 take-ons in the centre of Madrid’s midfield.
Additionally his passing accuracy of 90% is better than of Real Madrid’s regular players. Rather than operating as a primarily defensive midfielder Modric will play as a deep lying playmaker, breaking up attacks and then getting counter attacks going.
This role will prove to be the crucial part of the match against Brazil, not only will Modric be tasked with tracking the Brazilian midfielders he will also have to get Croatia going on the counterattack as quickly as possible. He can rely on defensive cover from the likes of Ivica Olic who will track back to lend a hand with Neymar but the forward will prove equally important when pushing back up the pitch, his pace and willingness to chase every cause will put pressure on the Brazilian defenders.
Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos finished with higher performance scores than Modric for Real Madrid this season. The midfielder finished with six assists but the final ball wasn’t always his responsibility, it was keeping Madrid moving at a quick pace and offering himself as an option. For Croatia he will have to find the option rather than be the option but playing deeper is something he did well at Tottenham and he will relish the responsibility.