European champions Italy will face Spain in the last four at the Nations League Finals in June, with hosts Netherlands drawn against World Cup semi-finalists Croatia.

Italy, who were absent from a second consecutive edition of the World Cup in Qatar last year, reached the Nations League semi-finals by edging out Hungary for top spot in a group which also contained Germany and England.

Standing between Roberto Mancini's men and the final are Spain – who beat the Azzurri 2-1 at the same stage of the competition in 2021 before losing the final against France.

Spain, who saw off Portugal to win Group A2, will be led by new head coach Luis de la Fuente after Luis Enrique departed in the aftermath of their surprise World Cup exit against Morocco.

The Netherlands, who were beaten finalists at the inaugural 2019 Nations League Finals in Portugal, will face Croatia in a home semi-final at De Kuip in Rotterdam.

The Oranje are also under new management, with Ronald Koeman returning to the role in place of Louis van Gaal after their World Cup quarter-final loss to eventual champions Argentina.

While it's all change for Spain and the Netherlands, there will be a familiar look to Croatia's side in June, with talismanic midfielder Luka Modric pledging to continue his international career after helping the team win bronze in Qatar.

The semi-final fixtures will take place on June 14 and 15, with the third-place play-off and final being held on June 18.  

Josko Gvardiol named Liverpool as his "dream" destination as the RB Leipzig defender continues to attract interest from a host of Europe's biggest clubs.

Gvardiol has been linked with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid after enjoying an outstanding World Cup campaign with Croatia, starting all seven of his country's games as they clinched the bronze medal.

The 20-year-old led all defenders for interceptions (11) and clearances (37) at the tournament, also scoring with a brilliant diving header in his team's third-place play-off against Morocco.

Gvardiol partnered former Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren at the heart of Croatia's defence in Qatar, and he is enthusiastic about the prospect of following in his footsteps by moving to Anfield. 

"My dream club? That would definitely be Liverpool," he told RTLDanas. 

"Since I was little, I watched a lot of their matches with my dad. We covered every season in detail. It is a club that has remained in my heart."

However, Gvardiol is in no rush to leave Leipzig – who sit third in the Bundesliga during the competition's mid-season break – before the end of the campaign. 

"I'm not in a hurry," he said. "I'm at Leipzig and we still have six months to finish the season and to win something. Then we will look further to the future."

Chelsea were strongly linked with a move for Gvardiol in the last transfer window before signing fellow defenders Kalidou Koulibaly and Wesley Fofana, and the Leipzig man revealed he was close to moving to Stamford Bridge. 

"Last summer a transfer was close and [Leipzig] simply kept me. I hope to spend these six months with [Leipzig]," he added. 

"Chelsea did not give up, but it was agreed that we would go for the winter. Winter has come, so we need to see what and how to proceed, but it's okay, there's still plenty of time, so we'll see.

"Nobody presented anything to me. But I'm not in a hurry, we have time, let them arrange the plan and we'll see."

Southampton have signed Croatia winger Mislav Orsic from Dinamo Zagreb in an attempt to boost their Premier League survival hopes.

Orsic – who made six appearances for Croatia at the World Cup in Qatar and scored a sublime winner in their third-place play-off success against Morocco – has signed a two-and-a-half-year deal at St Mary's.

Southampton reportedly convinced Dinamo to part ways with Orsic by making a bid of £6million plus add-ons after Everton and Nottingham Forest were also linked with the 30-year-old.

Saints sit bottom of the Premier League table and three points adrift of safety after Wednesday's 1-0 defeat to Forest, their sixth consecutive loss in the competition.

Southampton manager Nathan Jones was only appointed as Ralph Hasenhuttl's successor in November, but he is already under pressure after becoming the second Saints boss to lose each of his first four Premier League games after Nigel Adkins in the 2012-13 season.

Jones will hope Orsic can transfer his outstanding record against English teams in continental competitions into the Premier League.

Orsic scored the only goal of the game as Dinamo beat Chelsea in their Champions League opener earlier this season, while he also netted a stunning hat-trick in a Europa League win against Tottenham in 2021.

Graham Potter was delighted to see Hakim Ziyech show his quality at the World Cup, but the Chelsea head coach says there will always be talented players out of favour at Stamford Bridge.

Ziyech was one of the stars of the tournament as Morocco became the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals in Qatar, playing a prominent role in several devastating counter-attacking displays from the Atlas Lions.

However, the tricky winger has enjoyed limited time on the field in the Premier League this season, featuring for a total of just 148 minutes and only starting one game. 

Ziyech's strong performances in Qatar have led to suggestions he could leave Chelsea in search of regular game time, but Potter remains hopeful he will excel at Stamford Bridge.

"Where he was at when we first came in, he was away from the first XI, but he has been involved in the games," Potter said on Friday. 

"We know his qualities, we like him as a player. He plays between the lines and has fantastic quality, and we saw that at the World Cup.

"At Chelsea, there are always good players that aren't in the starting XI, and they have to be patient. 

"I'm delighted for him that he helped his team; I kept in touch with him throughout the World Cup."

Ziyech's Morocco lost out to Mateo Kovacic's Croatia in the third-place play-off, and both players will sit out Chelsea's Premier League meeting with Bournemouth on Tuesday. 

"It's a real mix in terms of when they got knocked out and how much they played. They've dripped back in according to their own circumstances," Potter said of his returning World Cup stars.

"They've come back in a really good way. We're still waiting on Hakim and Mateo. Obviously, they went the distance with the third-place play-off.

"It's a big demand for those two, so it was important to give them a bit of time. They won't be available for the game. Everyone else has been back and had a few days of training."

Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester City are reportedly the three leading candidates to land prized RB Leipzig centre-back Josko Gvardiol after his excellent World Cup for Croatia.

Gvardiol, 20, has emerged as one of the top young centre-backs in the world after breaking into Leipzig's starting XI last season, and with 19 senior caps for Croatia under his belt already, he is well established on the international stage.

Having been signed from Dinamo Zagreb for €16million in 2020, that deal has proven to be a bargain, but it remains to be seen if Leipzig feel it is good business to part ways with their young star with four more years remaining on his contract.

 

TOP STORY - EUROPE'S TOP CLUBS CIRCLE CROATIA'S ROCK IN DEFENSE

Gvardiol may feel his future does not lie in Leipzig, but with his contract tying him to the club until 2027, he has no leverage in negotiations.

According to The Mirror, Chelsea have been planning a raid on Leipzig for months and would like to bring Gvardiol across with Christopher Nkunku, who they are said to have already secured in a future deal.

That report states Madrid are hoping to place a bid at the end of the season, but Chelsea have a January move in mind, although with Leipzig only six points off the Bundesliga summit they will likely need a stunning offer to force their hand mid-season.

That offer could come from City, who The Sun believes are preparing a €110m bid that would make Gvardiol the most expensive defender in history.

 

ROUND-UP

– Sky Sports is reporting Chelsea and Liverpool are closely monitoring 21-year-old Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo, who was a standout for Ecuador at the World Cup.

– According to Foot Mercato, Fiorentina and Morocco midfielder Sofyan Amrabat is pushing for a move to Liverpool.

– Sky Sports Germany believes Manchester United will not renew the contract of goalkeeper David De Gea and will look for a replacement at the end of the season.

Manchester United are looking to sign 25-year-old Borussia Monchengladbach striker Marcus Thuram in January, per Sport Bild.

– The Daily Mail is reporting West Ham will pursue a loan deal for United right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka in January.

Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic insisted his team's World Cup bronze medal did not mark the end of an era and declared there was "nothing to fear" about the future.

The head coach saw his team overcome Morocco 2-1 on Saturday to take third place at the Qatar 2022 finals, four years after they were runners-up when Russia hosted.

Croatia, a country with a population of around four million people, has produced remarkable football teams since gaining its independence from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Dejan Lovren have been kingpins of the side for many years, and Modric and Lovren have already ruled out carrying on until the 2026 World Cup, while it would be a major surprise if Perisic remained on the team.

He would be 37, and given his role is a high-energy one that involves getting up and down the pitch, Perisic can probably be counted out of that tournament.

Modric intends to play on for now, certainly to the Nations League next year and perhaps through to the Euro 2024 finals, and Dalic believes the newest and next generations of Croatia internationals can thrive just like the current breed.

"Yes, this is the last World Cup for some of my players today, due to their age and some other aspects," Dalic said. "But we have young players too, there's a hopeful Croatia: Orsic, Stanisic, Sutalo."

Of those, defenders Josip Sutalo and Josip Stanisic are both 22 years old, while midfielder Mislav Orsic is 29, and should be good for another World Cup cycle.

It was Orsic who hit the winning goal against Morocco, a classy strike from a difficult angle that left goalkeeper Yassine Bounou grasping at air.

Dalic said of the rising stars in his ranks: "We have many of those players on the bench, but they'd not be able to have good performance without the older ones.

"The older players instil confidence, they allow them to grow and mature. We have a great football school for the future. Croatia has nothing to fear for its national team.

"Is this the end of an era or a generation? I think not. We have the Nations League and qualification for the Euros in 2024, that is what awaits us, but we have great talents.

"There are four players from the Croatian league in the team today and I believe Croatia has a fascinating future."

Morocco showed they can compete with international football's elite teams after finishing fourth at the World Cup, according to head coach Walid Regragui.

Goals from Josko Gvardiol and Mislav Orsic gave Croatia a 2-1 victory in Saturday's third-place play-off, as Morocco's historic World Cup came to a conclusion.

They became the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of international football's top tournament, overcoming giants such as Spain and Portugal before finally succumbing to France in the final four.

Despite the losing end to Morocco's campaign, Regragui believes the Atlas Lions exhibited their right to be considered one of the top footballing nations in the world.

"Tomorrow morning we will take stock, and realise we all made a fantastic achievement here," Regragui told reporters at his post-match news conference.

"We played Croatia twice, one of the top three teams in the world. We played against Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium and Canada, that’s wonderful.

"We have an objective of winning the World Cup one day. Morocco showed we can go toe to toe with these teams. We are now one of the top four teams in the world."

Asked if he would change anything about Morocco's tournament, Regragui replied: "Honestly I would say nothing.

"We had 0.01 per cent chance of winning the tournament at the outset. We managed to get to the last four.

"We played some of the powerhouses of football. If you told me we'd get this far, number four in the world, I'd have accepted that straight away.

"We deserve respect. They fought until the end, showed hard graft. That’s football, some nations are stronger than us. France were, Croatia were tonight, but only slightly stronger.

"For 2026, if I'm still in charge, I'll have more experience and maybe things will change, and in 2026 we will realise the achievement we've made in 2022."

Morocco's final match in Qatar saw a number of controversial officiating decisions, with the final whistle met by intense protests from Regragui's players towards the referee.

Achraf Hakimi, Morocco's star right-back, was reportedly involved in a row with FIFA president Gianni Infantino in the tunnel after the match.

It comes after the Royal Morocco Football Federation lodged a complaint to FIFA over referee Cesar Ramos' performance during their semi-final defeat to France.

However, Regragui was keen not to focus too much on the referee's display, while he defended his players' behaviour after the game.

"When you lose you always get disappointed, upset," Regragui stated. "My players are great competitors, I don’t think there was a lack of respect.

"We sometimes overreact at the end of games, it happens. We just weren’t at the level we've set.

"We focus on what we were lacking. We can't hide behind the refereeing, that’s not the Moroccan way. We let the association deal with any official issues."

Luka Modric has decided to play on for Croatia after the veteran captain helped his team to bronze at the Qatar World Cup.

That could mean Modric remains at the heart of the Croatia midfield at Euro 2024, by which time he will be approaching his 39th birthday.

Real Madrid playmaker Modric is not looking quite that far ahead for now, but crucially he has not ruled out extending his career for his country through to that point.

The first step for Modric will be a tilt with his country at the Nations League Finals in the Netherlands next year, with Croatia joined in that four-team tournament by the hosts, plus Italy and Spain.

Thrilled with another World Cup medal, after a silver four years ago in Russia, Modric told beIN SPORTS: "This medal is very important for us, for me, for Croatia as a national team and as a country.

"We confirm with this medal that Croatia is playing an important role in the world of football, and we are leaving Qatar as winners.

"About my future, I don't know if I will be at the Euros in Germany. I need to go step by step.

"I'm enjoying the national team, I feel happy, I still think I can perform on a high level, and I want to continue at least until the Nations League, and then after there'll be more time to think about the Euros.

"But now it's go step by step and continue at least until the Nations League, and after we will see."

There had been concern in some quarters that Modric would retire from international football after this World Cup, but coach Zlatko Dalic expressed optimism he would play on through to the 2024 European finals in Germany.

Now, after Saturday's 2-1 win over Morocco in the third-place play-off, Dalic's wish is close to becoming a reality.

Croatia have Wales, Armenia, Turkey and Latvia in their Euro 2024 qualifying group, and they would be strongly favoured to come through that and reach the finals.

It remains to be seen whether Dejan Lovren plays on, with the 33-year-old centre-back left with some thinking to do about his own future.

Lovren said getting a World Cup bronze was "something special" and paid tribute to Modric, his long-time colleague in the national team.

"I get emotional, because it's for us the last World Cup, and I lived so many great memories with him," Lovren said.

He said it was "an honour" to play in the company of such a top performer, with Modric having won the Ballon d'Or award after Croatia's run to the 2018 World Cup final.

Lovren even said Modric had proven himself a superior performer to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the latter stages of World Cups.

Messi may have something to say about that after Sunday's final, when Argentina take on France.

"He's better than them in these moments," Lovren said of Modric. "There's not too many players who took the silver and the bronze.

"He can be proud and he knows that. He's a special guy."

As for his own future, with a view to the next Euros, former Liverpool defender Lovren said: "I wish I can tell you what will happen in two years. I'm just enjoying this moment, and we will see."

Luka Modric signed off his World Cup career with the consolation prize of a Qatar 2022 bronze medal as Croatia beat Morocco 2-1 in the third-place match on Saturday.

Goals of real wonder from Josko Gvardiol and Mislav Orsic meant the runners-up from four years ago in Russia finished this campaign on a high, following the blow of losing to Argentina in the semi-finals.

Croatia are hopeful captain Modric, at the age of 37, will decide to play on and take part in their Euro 2024 campaign, but this was a World Cup farewell for the Real Madrid midfielder.

Gvardiol gave Croatia a seventh-minute lead at Khalifa International Stadium. Although Achraf Dari swiftly brought Morocco level, Orsic's brilliant finish just before half-time proved to be the match winner.

Gvardiol's goal was a super header into the left corner after Lovro Majer's free-kick into the penalty area was skilfully nodded towards the penalty spot by Ivan Perisic.

Morocco were level just 112 seconds minutes later, though, with Dari applying a close-range finish with his head after Hakim Ziyech's free-kick from the right flank was sent looping up by a heavy touch off Croatia's Majer.

Yassine Bounou had almost sliced a pass into his own net early on, but the Morocco goalkeeper was sharp enough to keep out a low strike from Modric. However, he was beaten in the 42nd minute by an exquisite finish from Orsic, who arced the ball over the goalkeeper from just inside the left edge of the penalty area, the shot going in off the far post.

A deflected Orsic strike from 20 yards rippled the side-netting early in the second half as Croatia searched for a third goal against the team that became Africa's first World Cup semi-finalists.

Gvardiol later wanted a penalty after going down under a challenge from Sofyan Amrabat, before Morocco had their big chance, with Youssef En-Nesyri denied from close range by Dominik Livakovic. They were left to settle for fourth, still a huge achievement.

Zlatko Dalic is optimistic Luka Modric will play for Croatia at Euro 2024.

Modric won the Ballon d'Or after leading Croatia to the World Cup final in Russia four years ago, and the Real Madrid star enjoyed another fine tournament as Dalic's men reached the final four in Qatar.

However, the 37-year-old was unable to inspire his team to a semi-final victory over Argentina on Tuesday, leading to suggestions he may retire from the international game.

Modric refused to give anything away regarding his future after the defeat, and Dalic is hopeful he will stay on for at least another 18 months.

"I hope that he [Modric] will be there [at Euro 2024]," Dalic said. "I am looking forward to it.

"It is not certain that he will there be and he will personally decide how he feels. I personally feel that he will be, but it ultimately is his decision."

Croatia started their World Cup campaign with a 0-0 draw against Morocco in Group F, and they face the African side again in Saturday's bronze-medal match.

Walid Regragui's outfit have been the surprise package of the tournament, with Dalic comparing their stunning run to Croatia's surge to the 2018 final.

"Morocco remind me of us four and a half years ago," he said. "Nobody expected them to be this high, but they got to where they are with their quality and emotions.

"From game to game, they only grew and I think we are in for a much more difficult match than the one from the opening group.

"We have full and great respect for them. They show unity and are not afraid of anyone."

Morocco captured the imagination of football fans around the world during their World Cup campaign, which saw them stun Belgium, Spain and Portugal.

They suffered a 2-0 defeat to France in the semi-final on Wednesday and boss Regragui is struggling to get excited about the third-place play-off.

"It is a little bit difficult," he said. "It is very complicated for both teams. You are so disappointed; you have just lost a semi-final and then two days later you have to go back out there.

"It is like the booby prize. I'm sorry for speaking like this. I understand it should be important, I understand it is better to finish third than fourth, but, for me, my takeaway is just that we didn't get to the final.

"Even if we did get to the final, and I finished second, I would be saying the same thing to you.

"We want to be as positive as possible, especially for our fans. Finishing third would be great for our image."

There is undoubtedly a perception the World Cup's third-place play-off is little more than an exhibition match – compared to the final, anyway.

But for Croatia and Morocco, Saturday's clash at the Khalifa International Stadium holds a great deal of significance regardless of what others might think.

Croatia were denied the chance to reach successive World Cup finals by Argentina, while Morocco put up an admirable fight against defending champions France in their 2-0 defeat.

But the fact Croatia – who clinched bronze at the 1998 World Cup – were in the 2018 final does not diminish the achievement of potentially finishing third here for coach Zlatko Dalic.

"We are sad and disappointed, but we have to gather energy to come back and be ready for the next fight for bronze," he said.

"The match on Saturday is a big final for us, not a small [game]. It's a big deal if we get the bronze.

"We have to refresh the team and put healthy players in the team because a grand final is ahead of us.

"Morocco is the biggest surprise of the World Cup. They've got national backing, unity, compactness. They knocked out Belgium, Spain and Portugal. They deserve all the respect."

Of course, these two tussled in a rather drab goalless group-stage draw, when Croatia were restricted to just five shots, their fewest ever in a World Cup game.

That encounter was something of a foreshadowing: Croatia have not been one of the tournament's great entertainers.

Morocco caused France plenty of problems and will fancy their chances of worrying Croatia on Saturday, particularly given Dalic's side have faced more shots (75) than any other team at the tournament.

The Atlas Lions have certainly benefited from a degree of pragmatism as well, with one more clean sheet enough for them to become only the eighth team in tournament history to keep five in one World Cup.

Of course, Walid Regragui insisted his team want to finish third, but there's also a degree of their job being done as the head coach acknowledged the gravity of their achievement in becoming Africa's first World Cup semi-finalists

"I will give opportunities to those who did not participate, and we will try to clinch the third place," Regragui told reporters.

"We realise that we made a great achievement already. We know that from the media, social media, and on TV, we saw the pictures, and we saw that everyone was proud of us in our country.

"We're disappointed for the Moroccan people, we wanted to keep the dream alive, but we're pleased with what we've achieved.

"We felt that we could have gone even further but these small details help real champions, which we saw [against France], of course.

"My players gave everything and they've gone as far as they could. I really wanted to rewrite the history books, but you can't win a World Cup with miracles, you need to do it through hard work."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Croatia – Mateo Kovacic

Dalic is expected to make a few changes: Marcelo Brozovic is an injury doubt; Luka Modric could be given a breather. All three of their regular midfield probably won't come out of the side, meaning Kovacic is surely the likeliest to start.

Kovacic was one of Croatia's better players against Argentina, with his physicality and ball carrying standing out as the Valtreni tried to cope with the feisty Argentinians. He attempted six dribbles, completing four, and engaged in 15 duels, winning 10 – all of those were highs for his team.

 

Morocco – Azzedine Ounahi

Again, Regragui will alter his team a bit, so it is difficult to know who's going to play, but all the neutrals will be hoping to get another glimpse of Ounahi.

An elegant central midfielder, the 22-year-old has been one of the tournament's breakthrough stars, with his composure in possession really making him stand out. He has completed 77 per cent of his take-on attempts in the World Cup (10/13), which is the highest rate of any player to try at least 10.

 

PREDICTION

Morocco's win probability of 30.9 per cent for this is a reasonable increase on the 24.8 per cent Stats Perform's AI model gave them ahead of the matchday one meeting.

Nevertheless, Croatia remain the favourites, with the supercomputer putting their win likelihood at 43.1 per cent.

The draw is rated at 26 per cent, but it's worth noting that none of the 19 previous third place play-off matches at the World Cup have gone to penalties, while only one has been settled in extra time (France v Belgium in 1986).

Josko Gvardiol will take pride in having faced "the best player in history", even if Lionel Messi went to another level in an Argentina shirt to humiliate the Croatia defender.

Gvardiol and Messi have been two of the stars of the 2022 World Cup and came face to face in the semi-finals.

But it was a battle Messi won emphatically, scoring one goal and creating another in a 3-0 Argentina win.

It was the assist that garnered most attention as Messi took on Gvardiol, beating him twice before cutting the ball back for Julian Alvarez.

Gvardiol was on the wrong end of one of the moments of the finals, but he was still delighted to be able to play Messi.

"I have already played against him, but he plays differently than with his club," Gvardiol said.

"It's a great experience, and one day I'll tell my kids that I played against the best player in history."

Messi has seemingly confirmed this will be his last World Cup, as he attempts to lead Argentina past France in Sunday's final, and the same is expected of 37-year-old Croatia midfielder Luka Modric.

But Andrej Kramaric, speaking alongside RB Leipzig player Gvardiol, is not so sure Modric is ready to quit the international game.

"We all know how many nice words were written about Luka and what he did not only for Croatia but the whole world," Kramaric said. "Knowing him, I'm not sure that this is his last.

"Age comes for everyone, including for him, but he will remain immortal for the whole world. He makes everything easier and simpler, which is difficult."

Croatia forward Andrej Kramaric has dismissed the idea Saturday's third-place playoff with Morocco is an empty contest, suggesting the winner will become "immortal".

The two teams will meet at Khalifa International Stadium following their respective semi-final defeats to Argentina and France.

For Zlatko Dalic's side, they fell short of a second successive final, having been beaten by Les Bleus at Russia 2018, while Walid Regragui's men saw their underdog story come up short of the showpiece game as well.

But Kramaric says there will be no short-changing their bronze-medal match despite their heartbreak, arguing the winner stakes a place in history and becomes entrenched in sporting folklore.

"I think if you ask this question to Moroccan players, I don't think they will look that way," he said

"They're fighting for their lives because if you win a medal at a World Cup you become an immortal hero in your country. That's the same thing we are going to do.

"Eight of us from [the tournament in] Russia understand that feeling of winning a medal at the World Cup.

"We have a lot of players who haven't experienced that and would love to do that because it's something that will stay with you for the rest of their life."

Croatia – whose prior best performance in a World Cup had been third at France 1998 before Russia – are looking to claim a third tournament medal in their history.

For Morocco, regardless of their result, they will already go down as the greatest World Cup side in African history, having become the first from the continent to make the semi-finals.

Luka Modric opting to retire from international duty would be "a pity" for all football fans, according to Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic, who hopes the midfielder will continue with his team.

Modric won the Ballon d'Or after leading Croatia to the World Cup final in Russia four years ago, and the Real Madrid star enjoyed another fine tournament as Dalic's men reached the final four in Qatar.

However, the 37-year-old was unable to inspire his team to a semi-final victory over Argentina on Tuesday, leading to suggestions he may call time on his international career.

Modric refused to give anything away regarding his future after Tuesday's defeat, but Dalic hopes his captain will still be available after Saturday's bronze medal match. 

"He was very disappointed yesterday, the defeat and the game were hard on him," Dalic told reporters on Wednesday. "It's logical that he feels that way, it was really hard for him. 

"Our concentration is on the game on Saturday, we haven't talked about that [retirement]. We have to prepare for that game. 

"I hope he stays in the national team. Of course, he will decide himself. We have a game on Saturday and we'll talk after that.

"If Luka says goodbye to the national team, it will be a pity and regret for all the fans around the world. He showed so much good football, but he also proved to be a top professional. 

"When he wins and when he loses, he behaves like a true professional. It is difficult for him, and he will make his own decision. 

"It will be difficult for me, too, if he decides otherwise. The whole world respects Modric. It would be nice if he continued."

Although Modric criticised referee Daniele Orsato for awarding Argentina's Julian Alvarez a first-half penalty in Croatia's defeat, he also expressed his hope that Albiceleste great Lionel Messi goes on to lift the trophy.

Dalic believes that gesture demonstrated Modric's class. 

"The most difficult thing is to remain dignified in defeat. It shows the greatness of Luka Modric to congratulate them all, and it is difficult for him, as well as for all our players," Dalic added.

"That gesture shows that we are big. When the French bowed to us in Moscow, that's a gesture that makes you happy. Croatia is still worth something in world football."

Dalic outlined his intention to remain in charge of Croatia after Tuesday's loss, with their Euro 2024 qualification campaign set to begin against Wales on March 25.

Lionel Messi deserves to lift the World Cup and will lead Argentina to glory in Sunday's final, according to Brazil's 2002 champion Rivaldo.

Messi produced another remarkable performance as Argentina beat Croatia 3-0 in Tuesday's semi-final, opening the scoring from the penalty spot before laying on a goal for Julian Alvarez after a fine solo run.

On the day he equalled Lothar Matthaus' all-time record of 25 World Cup appearances, Messi became the first player to score and assist in four games at the competition.

Messi's 11th World Cup goal also made him the Albiceleste's record goalscorer at the tournament, and with Brazil having fallen at the quarter-final stage, Rivaldo hopes Messi captures the trophy.

"We no longer have Brazil or Neymar in this cup final, so I'll stay with Argentina. No words for you Leo Messi," Rivaldo wrote on Instagram.

"You already deserved to be world champion before, but God knows all things and will crown you this Sunday. 

"You deserve this title for the person you are and for the wonderful football you always played. Hats off to you. God bless you."

Messi's penalty on Tuesday also made him the first Argentina player to score in five games at a single World Cup, with Poland the only side to prevent him from netting in Qatar. 

Taking to Instagram after the win, Messi wrote: "We came back to gain strength to play another great match. 

"Thank you very much to everyone who trusted this group! Come on Argentina!"

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