Sunday, March 18, 2018 02:19:33 AM
AFP, Zagreb :
Croatia will hope Real Madrid star Luka Modric can carry the nation to the World Cup finals as they go into the first leg of a tricky play-off with Greece on Thursday.
The 32-year-old captain has faced a tumultuous year, with his shining reputation tarnished by a scandal in June over allegedly false testimony he gave at a major corruption trial.
But anger from the fans appeared to be swiftly forgotten after his brilliant performance in the 2-0 victory against Ukraine in Kiev in October, which secured Croatia a play-off place.
The national team now hopes the midfielder will be at his best to help them beat the 2004 European champions and secure a place in the tournament in Russia.
Modric is the biggest star Croatia has produced since 1998, when they surprisingly reached the World Cup semi-finals, losing to eventual winners France.
In October, Modric was named, for the third time, to the FIFA FIFPro team selected by thousands of professional players. In 2015, he became the first Croatian voted on to the FIFPro XI.
Modric grew up during Croatia's 1990s independence war as a refugee in Zadar on the Adriatic coast. There he played football in the corridors of a hotel-turned-shelter and in its parking lot, as the city was shelled.
His talent was spotted by a scout for NK Zadar and Modric joined the club.
Modric left for Dinamo Zagreb in 2000 and then joined English club Tottenham Hotspur in 2008.
He was the subject of bids from a host of big European clubs before joining Real Madrid in 2012.
Modric was highly popular in Croatia until he testified in the multi-million-euro corruption trial of former Dinamo Zagreb boss Zdravko Mamic.
Mamic, considered the most powerful man in Croatian football, is accused -- along with his brother Zoran Mamic and two others -- of abuse of power and corruption.
They allegedly deprived the former Croatian champions of more than 15 million euros ($17.4 million), and the state of 1.5 million euros.
Cash was allegedly embezzled through fictitious deals related to player transfers, including Modric's to Tottenham.
While testifying, Modric was visibly uncomfortable and confused, unable to even remember the year he made his debut for the national squad.
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