World Cup 2018: There is only one contender for the Golden Ball
He dragged himself for one final time, one more perfect pass to the wing, one last effort to make it all come true. The night was humid, the gargantuan Luzhniki Stadium just a bit more imposing than before because it was extra time and the margins were getting smaller.
This man knows only one way to play, the context changes, the crises evolve, but trust Luka Modric to find the right ball. He has seen it all, from the conflict-torn vestiges of his past, the refugee-like existence in his own country, to the glitz and glamour of the Galactico life at Real Madrid; Modric has traversed an entire universe in time and space but has remained the same quintessentially, a boy who not only has prodigious talents but a prodigious love for the game that has given him everything.
That night, the purveyors of the modern sport England were sent packing home as compatriots Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic found that extra something to carry them over the line into the World Cup final; but pulling the strings quietly from the back was their captain and talisman.
That night the diminutive playmaker gave a fiery post-match interview which told us the workings of his inner mind. His eternal quest for prestige must have been engendered in a tragic childhood that saw Serbian militants murdering his grandfather. Modric is named after him.
The football World Cup is all about the various intertwining narratives that make it a transcendental event, it ceases being a mere sports tournament and becomes the many-faceted expression of the human condition itself.
Stories of the Iranian team playing gallantly despite international sanctions severely hampering their preparations, of John Obi Mikel turning out in his country's colours after getting the news of his father's kidnapping, of the dreams and aspirations of immigrants who make up the bulk of favorites France, of Iceland being coached by a part-time dentist, this Cup has seen many poignant tales crisscrossing the main strand.
The Croatia story stands tall as the biggest fairy-tale amongst them all. A perennial history of civil wars and strife led to the nation's formation in 1991, and yet they were third in the 1998 World Cup thanks to an immortal side led by the prolific Davor Suker.
It is a country of 4 million and yet it stands tall as a major footballing nation. Despite being a nascent nation-state, it has proven that determination trumps all adversity, along with some help from a good gene pool.
Luka Modric, the four-time Champions League winner with Real, has led them through this campaign. He may not have got the telling final touch always or the assist that set up the winning goal, but he has been instrumental in forging a unit that fears no one and that has the mental strength to survive three knockout matches that went into extra time, two of which went to penalties. He has also run an unprecedented 63 kilometres in Russia.
Unbelievable but true, Modric might go to jail in the country he has led to their first World Cup final if convicted of perjury in a controversial case engendered by his relation with Zdravko Mamic, already convicted of embezzlement.
There are many in Croatia who hate Mamic and in turn, have come to dislike their most famous footballer; they would do well to look beyond this now as Modric has shown, more often than not, his immense love for the country of his birth despite the chequered history of his formative years.
The best player of the Cup
Kylian Mbappe has been the revelation of the World Cup. The French teenager has scored wonder goals, shown off an awe-inspiring array of skill and pace, won crucial penalties and generally set the stage on fire.
Harry Kane led England to their first semi-final in 28 years and is already on course to win the Golden Boot. Eden Hazard was a connoisseur's delight in Belgium's progress to the same stage.
In comparison, the 32-year-old Modric has achieved less tangibly, especially in personal terms. He scored a wonder goal in a famous win over Argentina and was the wrecker-in-chief against Nigeria. He has adequately showcased his vision, passing and shooting abilities over the last month but has also had setbacks, missing a penalty versus Denmark before redeeming himself in the shootout with Croatia on the brink of an exit.
But the Golden Ball award, going to the best player of the Cup, rewards a story rather than statistics. It went to the tragic hero of the tournament Lionel Messi in 2014, it went to Diego Forlan in 2010 when Uruguay surprised the world to come forth in 2010 and Forlan put in an electrifying show and it should go to Luka Modric no matter what happens on Sunday. It will be the crowning glory of a remarkable sporting career.
His passion, footballing brain and sense of calm have taken the underdogs where they are today and one knows he will go on trying to find the perfect pass till the end of time, that's the way he is built.