World Cup 2022 briefing: Modric, not Messi, could be the man to stop

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“Messi may be the star of this summer” said Peter Drury in 2006 as a certain 18-year-old Argentinian skipped inside Croatia’s Stjepan Tomas before bending a beautiful shot inside the far post from the edge of the area. Messi’s first international goal came in his sixth appearance, in one of those meaningless mid-season friendlies organised in a neutral country (literally Switzerland in this case), and we know the rest of the story. He became not so much the star of the summer as the star of the century (so far).

But that snowy March night in Basel was also notable for another reason, one that wasn’t picked up by the highlights reel. On his international debut, Dinamo Zagreb’s Luka Modric held his own against Esteban Cambiasso and Juan Román Riquelme in central midfield, helping Croatia to a 3-2 win. The boy looked a bit special.

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This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting…

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This article was written by Michael Butler, Martin Belam, Niall McVeigh and Alex Reid and originally published on