Croatia defender Dejan Lovren believes Luka Modric never gets the credit he deserves and would win the Ballon d’Or if he played for Spain or Germany.
Modric has been one of the stars of the World Cup so far, scoring in each of his opening two games as Croatia have stormed to the top of Group D.
His second strike, a superb, bending effort from 25 yards, helped them to a 3-0 victory over Argentina and compounded the misery for Lionel Messi, a five-time winner of football’s most prestigious individual prize.
Modric has never even made the top three.
“It is a real pleasure to play with Luka Modric, who is one of the best players in the world right now,” Lovren said at Croatia’s training base in Roshchino on Sunday.
“Modric would probably be getting more attention than he is right now if he was a German or Spanish player. He would maybe even be a Ballon d’Or winner.
“But because we are a smaller country, he does get less attention than he deserves. We are all football lovers and we know Modric is an incredible player.”
Croatia have already qualified for the last 16 and their impressive goal difference means first place is also virtually secure, with coach Zlatko Dalic set to rotate against Iceland on Tuesday.
Six of his players, including Ivan Rakitic, Ante Rebic and Mario Mandzukic, have picked up one yellow card and another before the semi-final would draw a one-match ban.
But Argentina and Nigeria will both be hoping Croatia overcome Iceland as they look to win their final game and go through in second place.
“I fully understand Argentina’s concerns and their wish for Croatia to play a full team for the next game,” Lovren said.
“But we must also think about the fact we should not be playing the players who have yellow cards. That’s also our concern we need to keep in mind.”
Rotation is a luxury Croatia have earned and, with a potential last 16 clash to come against Denmark, they look well-placed for a run deep into the tournament.
“Right now, no-one is showing on the pitch that they are far superior than any other team,” Lovren said. “Croatia is a dark horse.”