Luka Modric insists Croatia’s golden generation are under no extra pressure in Russia, even though it could be the last World Cup for several members of their talented squad.
At 32, Real Madrid midfielder Modric – the shining Croatian light of his generation – could well be about to embark on his final World Cup.
Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic, Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic and Lokomotiv Moscow defender Vedran Corluka are also into their thirties, while Inter Milan winger Ivan Perisic celebrates reaching that particular landmark next February.
“This is not a burden, let’s see what happens after the World Cup,” Croatia captain Modric said when asked before Saturday’s opener against Nigeria in Kaliningrad if the prospect of a final major tournament for several players was increasing the pressure on Croatia.
“I hope the pressure that you mention will not be an obstacle.
“It is only right that there are expectations of us, but first and foremost we expect of ourselves more than anyone else.
“Whether this is the last chance or not is irrelevant.
“Let’s focus on what’s important and that is the first game, then the next game, and then the next game.
“Our first objective is to emerge from the group and I hope we will prove all those epithets right about this generation.”
Modric was asked about his new Real coach, but he said he has not dwelt on Julen Lopetegui’s appointment.
Lopetegui was sacked as Spain head coach on Wednesday after it was announced that he was taking over as manager of the European champions.
But Modric said: “I know he is our new coach at Real Madrid, but I am only thinking about my national team now.
“I saw what happened to Spain but they will not be worried by that.
“They have been together a long time, and although it was a shock, it will not derail them.”
Nigeria have had a difficult World Cup build-up with only two wins in their last eight games.
But captain John Obi Mikel, the former Chelsea midfielder who now plays for Tianjin TEDA in the Chinese Super League, promised: “We are ready.
“The preparation has gone well and there has not been any issues or troubles.
“The camp has been quite disciplined and there has been good unity in the team.”