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Luka Modric, the problem with ageing, and the worst day for Croatia’s best generation



Modric, 38, was replaced after 65 minutes as Croatia were beaten 3-0 by Spain at Euro 2024

It only took Luka Modric 18 years. In 2006, the summer before Lamine Yamal was born, he was an unused substitute against Brazil at Berlin’s Olympiastadion. He didn’t quite get on the pitch then – blame manager Zlatko Kranjcar for that one – but a remarkable longevity took him back to Berlin, into historic company. For the Croatia captain, playing in a ninth major tournament meant he joined only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lothar Matthaus among Europeans. A few months before his 39th birthday, he became the oldest ever player at European Championships; though perhaps only for a few days, until Ronaldo and Pepe go past him.

A day of record-breakers, however, became an advertisement for youth, rather than experience. Lamine Yamal, the youngest footballer ever at this level, some 22 years Modric’s junior, delivered a star turn. Croatia lost 3-0 to Spain. It wasn’t quite as dramatic a case of a glorious career ending at the Olympiastadion as Zinedine Zidane’s, later in the 2006 World Cup, but it was a day to prompt questions. Are Croatia, finally, too old? Will time eventually catch up with the timeless Modric, boyish as his physique remains, baggy as the shorts are?

A central-midfield trio with a combined 375 caps can still pass, but perhaps they can’t press. As Spain had less of the ball than in the past, Croatia did not get close enough to them. “We weren’t aggressive enough,” said manager Zlatko Dalic. “We were too slow and too far from the players.” He felt the problem was most apparent on the flanks, not his veteran midfield, but a product of ageing can be a reluctance to get closer to younger, faster players. A problem of ageing is that every defeat gets attributed to the possibility of decline. This might simply be “a bad day”, as Dalic said. Or it could prove something symbolic, the end of an era.

The best midfielder on show was the more prosaic talent, but more all-action figure, of Fabian Ruiz. He is 28, the age Modric was when he won the first of his six Champions Leagues. He accounts for 176 of those 375 caps, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic 199 between them.

But Modric and Kovacic’s afternoons were curtailed after 65 minutes, each removed to save ageing legs for the games against Albania and Italy. “We didn’t want to force them to the end,” said Dalic; there was a pragmatism to it but Modric has tended to be the marathon man, playing 120 minutes after 120 minutes in World Cup knockout ties, still on long after men a decade his junior have been removed. But that was when he was a regular starter for Real Madrid. This season he has been reinvented as an impact substitute, forming a different sort of double act with Toni Kroos: One passer has started the game, the other finished it.

Kroos’s farewell to international football will be his goodbye to the game; after winning the Champions League in his final club match, he could render it a double by walking away after Euro 2024His stellar showing against Scotland – 101 passes completed out of 102, some of them superlative – was an illustration he has rarely been better. He is the junior partner but he is going first, perhaps with a sense of narrative attached. If Kroos is Stuart Broad, Modric is James Anderson, trying to go on forever. It was remarkable he was named the third best player in a World Cup at 37; he was then swift to say he was not retiring from international duty.

His country has no suitable replacement. In Croatia’s generation game, there are issues in each age group: The older ones risk being too old; the younger ones, with the notable exception of Josko Gvardiol, look less gifted. Potential successors to Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic look pale imitations; indeed, Dalic’s next gambit could be to restore Perisic to the starting XI. Asking Gvardiol to reprise his Manchester City role as an attacking left back left Croatia looking too weak in the middle. Dalic was not happy with the goals conceded. “This was an example of bad play, and we have to see why it was so bad,” he said.

And Croatia got a Pyrrhic victory in the derby of the passers. Not since the Euro 2008 final, some 136 competitive games ago, had Spain finished a match with less possession. Yet they were not out-passed by Croatia, by Modric and co. And so the team who have become specialists in surviving, trailing yet eventually triumphing, now find themselves coming from behind again, propping up a group. They have confounded expectations before.

But Dalic’s Croatia have never had a day as bad as this, or one to give such legitimacy to fears that the Modric golden years could be ending.

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NFF’s treatment of Finidi George: A greater insult than Victor Osimhen’s ugly public outburst



While the public fight between Victor Osimhen and Finidi George has dominated headlines, a really major problem has discreetly revealed.

Finidi George has resigned as head coach of the Super Eagles Super Eagles, just a month after his appointment.

Finidi’s tenure began on a shaky note, with the Super Eagles Super Eagles suffering a damaging 1-0 defeat to the Benin Republic following a 1-1 draw against South Africa. These results have jeopardized Nigeria’s chances of qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, a situation made more critical by the country’s failure to qualify for the 2022 tournament.

In response, the Sports Ministry has queried the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF).

The NFF subsequently announced plans to appoint a foreign Technical Adviser who would oversee Finidi, effectively demoting him to his previous role as assistant coach. Reports indicate Finidi’s salary would be reduced from N15 million to N5 million.

Finidi alleges that the NFF did not communicate these changes to him clearly, a move arguably more disrespectful than Osimhen’s viral rant.

While Osimhen’s social media outburst drew widespread attention, the NFF’s handling of Finidi’s situation has been more damaging.

Finidi George is a respected figure in Nigerian football, having enjoyed a successful playing career with Ajax, including winning the UEFA Champions League. He has also proven his coaching credentials, leading Enyimba to the NPFL title and serving as assistant coach when Nigeria reached the AFCON final in February.

Despite not being the most obvious choice for head coach, the NFF saw potential in Finidi when they appointed him. Rather than supporting him through initial challenges, they appeared to undermine him after just two games.

Finidi faced numerous challenges, including injuries to key players and late arrivals to camp. While he may have made mistakes, it was expected that his bosses would support him.

Instead, it seems the NFF set him up to fail, giving them an excuse to revert to foreign coaches who often receive better support than their local counterparts.

Finidi should certainly address Osimhen’s disrespectful comments, but he must not lose sight of the larger issue—the NFF’s treatment. The true insult and disrespect come from the NFF, which has failed to back one of Nigeria’s football legends in his time of need.

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Super Eagles Coach, Finidi George Resigns




The newly appointed coach of the Nigerian Super Eagles team, Finidi George has resigned.

His resignation comes as a significant shock after the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) affirmed the quest for an foreign Technical Adviser following a poor run in the World Cup Qualifiers (WCQ).

The NFF and the Minister for sports brought Finidi to a gathering recently after he lost to Benin Republic in the ongoing World Cup Qualifiers, denying Nigeria of a smooth sail to getting a spot in the world cup.

At this stage, no official statement has been delivered by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) or Finidi George himself to affirm his resignation or in regards to the explanations for this stunning choice however it very well may be associated with his abysmal perfomance within few weeks of engagement.

His salary was additionally supposedly decreased as he neglected to meet up to up to expectations.

Ex-Super Eagles media official, Toyin Ibitoye affirmed the news in a post on X previously Twitter on Saturday.

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Federer makes history with eighth Wimbledon, 19th major title

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Photo: Shutterstock

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