Record 135 Caps Later: Croatia Moments that Defined Luka Modrić

By 27 March 2021
Record 135 Caps Later: Croatia Moments that Defined Luka Modrić
Slobodan Kadic

March 27, 2021 - Croatia has a new record holder for the most national team caps in history. TCN's Daniela Rogulj and Jose Alfonso Cussianovich look at the Croatia moments that defined Luka Modrić. 

Luka Modrić began his national team career on March 1, 2006. Fifteen years later, he leads the Vatreni at the opening of another qualification cycle, this time for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 

During this March qualification campaign, the Vatreni captain entered Croatian football history for appearances in the national team jersey. After equaling the legendary former Croatia captain Darijo Srna's national team caps on Wednesday, Luka Modrić is now the record holder with 135 national team appearances. 

Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos have more appearances of active players from European national teams. 

As in previous anniversaries, Luka could not celebrate his achievement on Wednesday after Croatia's loss to Slovenia in Ljubljana. You might recall that in his 50th match for the national team, Croatia lost 2-0 to Greece during the Euro 2012 qualifiers, and to mark his 100th capp, Croatia played 1-1 with Finland in Rijeka, a shocker that seriously hurt their chances of going to the World Cup in Russia at all. As if the result wasn't bad enough, the dismissal of coach Ante Čačić overshadowed what should have been a monumental moment for the Croatian footballer. 

We hope that Luka becomes the most-capped Croatia player with a win against Cyprus tonight. 

Croatia national team debut

On March 1, 2006, Luka Modrić debuted for the Croatia national football team. He was included in the team by the then coach Zlatko Kranjčar, who died in Zagreb on Luka's 15th-anniversary with Croatia, on March 1, 2021, at the age of 65.

As part of preparations for the World Cup in Germany, Kranjčar gave Modrić a chance in a friendly match against Argentina at St Jakob Park in Basel. Croatia celebrated 3-2. That match is also special because Lionel Messi scored his first goal for Argentina. 

Croatia took the lead in the third minute with a goal by Ivan Klasnić, but Argentina turned it around with two quick goals by Carlos Tevez (4) and Lionel Messi (6). Darijo Srna equalized in the 52nd minute, and Dario Šimić brought Croatia to victory in the 90th minute. Modrić played until the 84th minute. 


"The Dinamo Zagreb starlet was making his first senior appearance in the absence of the injured Robert Kovac and rewarded coach Kranjcar's faith in him with a fine display in the centre of midfield alongside Niko Kranjcar and Niko Kovac. Indeed Modric's performance prompted Kranjcar to muse that his team had not only won a game that night but also "won a player," FIFA wrote about Luka after the match. 

Euros 2008

After two appearances at the 2006 World Cup against Japan and Australia and a stellar run with club Dinamo Zagreb, Luka was given the confidence of new Croatia coach Slaven Bilić. Luka scored his first international goal one month after the 2006 World Cup in a friendly against Italy. 

A regular for Croatia in the games that followed and a standout player during Croatia's Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, the expectations of the Croatian midfielder were high -  and rightfully so. The promising midfielder continued to impress at the 2008 Euros and began writing history even then. Modrić not only scored Croatia's first goal of the tournament, but it was the quickest penalty ever called and scored in Euros history. 


Luka's magnificent performance throughout the tournament earned him UEFA Man of the Match in their following game against Germany. While Croatia's European campaign ended after losing the quarter-final penalty shootout to Turkey (and Luka missed), he was the second-ever Croatian to be included in the UEFA Team of the Tournament after Davor Šuker. 

Croatia captain band 

After veteran defender Darijo Srna retired from international football with an emotional letter following the 2016 Euros, Luka Modrić was named his successor by then-coach Ante Čačić.

"The new captain will be Luka Modrić, and our two vice-captains are Vedran Corluka and Ivan Rakitić," Čačić said at a press conference before Croatia kicked off their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign against Turkey on September 5, 2016.

Modrić captained Croatia only twice before then, the first time in an away draw against Azerbaijan.



"It's a nice feeling, I'm proud. Thank you to the coach for the trust, and I hope to justify it," said the new captain. 

"Modrić is our captain, the best midfielder in the world; he is the pride of the Croatia family, a man who presents our homeland at the highest level, with great enthusiasm," Ante Čačić gushed about Luka one year later. 

Little did Luka know that he would be wearing the captain band during Croatia's historic 2018 World Cup final. He is just a few games away from captaining his country in 40 total games. 

2018 World Cup in Russia

There are many things a Croat can’t forget, and the summer of 2018 is certainly one of them. No one thought the national team’s campaign in 1998 could be ever be surpassed, and no football fan expected Croatia to achieve what they did almost three years ago. Although it was definitely an outstanding team effort with Zlatko Dalić’s magic as a strategist, their captain’s inspirational performances will always be remembered.

Luka’s campaign transcended beyond an undoubted footballing demonstration, scoring one of the Croatia team's best goals in international tournaments against a powerful Argentina led by Lionel Messi. Likewise, he perfectly fulfilled the role of a midfielder in defensive and creative functions. The admiration for him also came for his energy and fighting spirit on the pitch, not only commanding the team as captain for the first time in a World Cup but running even when the team came from playing three games that went into extra time. He thus raised his teammates' spirits even when they found themselves below the scoreboard on various occasions, such as against Denmark, Russia, or England.


Croatia surpassed the magical generation of Šuker and Boban, reaching the World Cup final for the first time and facing the impressive France squad in Moscow. The 32-year old captain once again gave a stunning display of sacrifice and talent, but it wasn’t enough as France was crowned champion with a 4-2 win against Croatia. No one underestimated Modrić’s performance, and he went on to receive the World Cup Golden Ball for the best player of the tournament. He was included in the tournament's ideal team, and his goal against Argentina was selected as one of the top ten at the World Cup.

Luka Modric wins FIFA's ‘‘The Best’’, and the France Football ‘‘Ballon d’Or’’

2018 was surely a special year for Luka Modrić. Not only did he win his third-consecutive Champions League with Real Madrid (and fourth overall), but leading Croatia that summer to the World Cup final in Moscow earned him international praise and several awards, including the prestigious ‘‘The Best’’, awarded by FIFA to the best player of the year. Luka received the award in September, as he reached 29% of the votes over Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah. He was also included that night in the FIFA FIFPro World11.

And that wasn’t all, as France Football awarded him the Ballon d’Or that same year in December, the most prestigious individual recognition a professional footballer can receive, for all his club achievements and individual performances with the ‘Vatreni’ throughout the year. Luka again put his beloved country in the spotlight, winning the desired trophy over great footballers.


Recall, for ten years (2008-2018), the Ballon d’Or had only been awarded to either Lionel Messi (5) or Cristiano Ronaldo (5). Make sure your children or grandchildren know that it was a Croatian footballer to break the streak of two of the best footballers in history!

Croatia and his beloved Zadar later received Luka as a hero.

"Playing like that at the age of 36 shows how serious and responsible he is, a true professional, to keep such a high level of play in those years. For the benefit of Croatian football, I hope that he will remain at that level until Qatar," said coach Zlatko Dalić about Modrić earlier this week. 

And we do too. 

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