Luka Modric ended his World Cup campaign by guiding Croatia to a 2-1 win over Morocco in the third place playoff in Qatar today.
Modric has been the man in the middle for Croatia for more than a decade, leading the team to the World Cup final four years ago and the semifinals of this year’s tournament.
But at 37, his time at the top is surely coming to an end.
He was again central to Croatia’s victory, but it was Josko Gvardiol who stepped up from the back at Khalifa International Stadium.
Gvardiol, wearing a black mask after breaking his nose during a Bundesliga match last month, plays a different position and looks to be nearly twice the size of the diminutive No. 10.
But at 20 years old he is also almost half the age of Modric and plays like a veteran rather than someone who was still the age of a high school student when Croatia lost to France only four years ago in the 2018 final.
Nicknamed “Little Pep” because of the similarities between his last name and that of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, Gvardiol scored Croatia’s opening goal in the seventh minute of with a diving header.
His head was involved on the other end of the field as well. As a center back playing just behind Modric, Gvardiol was constantly being called upon to shoo away Morocco’s chances, to keep the area clear of red shirts, and keep the ball out of his team’s net.
He did that, and he was named player of the match because of it.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic, reflecting on Gvardiol’s imposing presence throughout the tournament in Qatar, said the defender deserved to be named the best young player of the World Cup.
Gvardiol came into the World Cup after recently extending his contract with German club Leipzig- a deal which ties him to the team through 2027.
But some of Europe’s biggest clubs may have something to say about that with the January transfer window coming up in a matter of weeks.