Zlatko Dalic was sorry to see Belgium lose a "great coach" in Roberto Martinez as his departure was confirmed with Thursday's World Cup exit.

Dalic's Croatia held Belgium to a goalless draw at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, following Morocco through to the last 16 in Group F.

Martinez, who was out of contract after six years as Red Devils coach, announced he would be leaving his role in his post-match news conference.

"I think Belgium have lost a great coach," said Dalic. "I'm sorry he resigned."

Discussing his own future, the Croatia boss added: "My project is Euro 2024 and the Nations League Finals. When I finish these projects, then I'll think about how to proceed."

Although the 2018 finalists themselves missed out on topping the group, Dalic hailed the performance of his team.

"It would be selfish for me to single out individuals," he said. "They all gave everything of themselves."

Full-backs Josip Juranovic and Borna Sosa were more open to picking out individuals, each lauding 37-year-old player of the match Luka Modric.

Asked if the Real Madrid man was still one of the world's best, Juranovic replied: "Yes – [that answer] is short enough. He is the best midfielder ever."

Sosa added: "Of course, it's easy [to play with Modric]. The better players you have in your team, the easier it is to play.

"With Luka, one of the best players in the history of the sport, it is very easy."

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic believes his team lacked "courage" as they were held by Morocco in their World Cup opener, with Luka Modric offering a similar opinion.

The 2018 runners-up were big favourites to claim an opening-day win that would have been big step towards progression from a group that also features Belgium and Canada.

While Croatia enjoyed just shy of 65 per cent of the ball, they only managed to craft two clear opportunities at Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday.

The first, a prodded Nikola Vlasic effort, was saved well by Yassine Bounou at the end of the second half, and just before the break Sofyan Amrabat made a vital block to keep Dejan Lovren's attempt out of the bottom-left corner.

Nevertheless, their accumulative expected goals figure of 0.66 highlighted a general lack of attacking authority, which Modric was eager to point out.

"We'll be better, we need to adopt a more proactive attitude and pass the group, that's our primary objective, to qualify," Modric told reporters.

"We had a great defence, what we were missing was a goal. We'd have had more luck if we'd had a more proactive attitude."

It was put to Dalic that Croatia underwhelmed considering their greater share of possession and he did not disagree.

He added: "You're right when you say that regarding ball possession and control. Our opponents were good, compact, and faster than us sometimes.

"They were behind our midfield and wingers, so we had a problem with making [attacking] passes.

"We should've gone forward more. We were afraid of counters, we were cautious about mistakes and indecisive.

"A bit of courage was missing on our part. We had control but not enough opportunities or decisiveness. We didn't go forward as much as we wanted to."

Perhaps predictably, Croatia's journey to the 2018 final was soon brought up, but Dalic felt it was irrelevant to start comparing the two squads and insisted Wednesday's disappointment will not alter their ambitions of going far.

"We cannot draw comparisons between the two generations," he said. "It's difficult to draw comparisons between the generation of four years ago and this.

"We know we have competence and we are prepared to fight. We will not be deterred and won't be stopped in our ambition. We are moving on; tomorrow is another day and that's it. This is going to be a tough tournament, for sure."

A point certainly appeared a better result for Morocco than it did for Croatia, even if the Atlas Lions are still searching for their first World Cup win since 1998.

There rarely looked to be any danger of Morocco stealing a victory, though, with Dominik Livakovic in the Croatian net barely troubled.

Morocco coach Walid Regragui disagreed with the suggestion his side lacked bravery, however.

"Not exactly because we wanted to win, but the strategy worked. We played like a European team. Morocco managed to create chances, and in fact we played a balanced way, a solid way, and it was difficult for Croatia.

"It was not fear. We see that this was only our first match. Maybe we could've played better, but we take every match as it comes, and still I know we should be in possession more and adapt to each opponent.

"I think the possession was 65 per cent for them, but I think when we had it we were more efficient. We'd have preferred that we had a different outcome but still I think we did well."

Croatia's World Cup exploits at Russia 2018 remain "unforgettable" for Luka Modric but the veteran midfielder wants to put those memories aside in Qatar.

Modric claimed the Ballon d'Or in 2018 after guiding Croatia to the final of FIFA's top tournament, which ended in defeat to France, while winning a third consecutive Champions League with Real Madrid.

The 37-year-old and coach Zlatko Dalic are two familiar faces from the Russian run in an otherwise much-changed squad.

Modric was named Golden Ball winner at the last World Cup, given to the tournament's best player, but wants to put previous success behind him ahead of Wednesday's Group F opener against Morocco.

"Definitely, what we've been through in 2018 in Russia is unforgettable and indelible in my mind," the Madrid legend said on Tuesday.

"Others can continue speaking about it but we need to put it aside and focus on what's ahead.

"Many players at the 2018 World Cup in Russia are not here, we have new players, new quality young players with fresh blood and energy. This is a new tournament and we have to look at it that way."

Croatia have lost their opening game in three of their five World Cup appearances, with the exceptions being 1998 when they reached the semi-final and 20 years later where they made the showpiece game.

Dalic's side appear in good form after coming through qualifying without any real scares and topping a Nations League group that included France and Denmark.

While Croatia have won each of their last five games, Modric insisted Dalic's men will show respect to Morocco, who are ranked 22nd in the world by FIFA.

"We have to maintain a modest attitude and not make big promises or make great claims that we'll achieve something," he added.

"I'm prepared physically and I'm in great shape. I'm healthy but drawing comparisons with other World Cups makes no sense. It's important to feel prepared and ready to win."

If Croatia can go one better than 2018, Modric vowed to call an end to his illustrious international career.

"If this happens it would be great. I'll retire if we win," he concluded.

Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric is set to compete in his fourth World Cup finals, having been named in Croatia's squad for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

Zlatko Dalic's side – beaten by France in the final of the 2018 edition in Russia – begin their campaign on November 23 against Morocco, then tackling Canada and Belgium in Group F, standing as favourites to advance as group winners.

Croatia boast an experienced squad, with captain Modric included alongside Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic, Inter's Marcelo Brozovic and Tottenham's Ivan Perisic, though key players from the 2018 campaign such as Ivan Rakitic and Danijel Subasic have bowed out of international football, while Mario Mandzukic has retired altogether and will instead be on Dalic's bench as an assistant coach.

Bayern Munich defender Josip Stanisic and RB Leipzig's highly rated Josko Gvardiol have been selected alongside experienced duo Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren, but there is no place for Southampton's Duje Caleta-Car, who has been capped 23 times by Croatia and was named in Dalic's preliminary selection.

Wolfsburg forward Josip Brekalo, who has represented his country 33 times, is another high-profile name to miss out. Mislav Orsic, the Dinamo Zagreb forward who has impressed in the Champions League and Europa League in recent seasons, has made the cut.

Speaking about his selection, Dalic said: "These are the players that my staff and I believe in. There will be no pressure, we will take it one game at a time.

"The first match for us is the most important and all our focus is on Morocco. We are optimistic but need to be realistic. It is a big deal for Croatia to be at the World Cup, we will take it step by step and do the best we can."

Croatia will also face Canada and Belgium in Group F in Qatar.

Croatia squad: Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivica Ivusic (Osijek), Ivo Grbic (Atletico Madrid); Domagoj Vida (AEK Athens), Dejan Lovren (Zenit), Borna Barisic (Rangers), Josip Juranovic (Celtic), Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig), Borna Sosa (Stuttgart), Josip Stanisic (Bayern Munich), Martin Erlic (Sassuolo), Josip Sutalo (Dinamo Zagreb); Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter), Mario Pasalic (Atalanta), Nikola Vlasic (Torino), Lovro Majer (Rennes), Kristijan Jakic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Luka Sucic (Salzburg), Ivan Perisic (Tottenham); Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Bruno Petkovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Mislav Orsic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ante Budimir (Osasuna), Marko Livaja (Hajduk Split).

Oscar Trejo scored the winner with a contentious second-half penalty as Real Madrid missed the chance to return to the LaLiga summit after falling to a 3-2 defeat at Rayo Vallecano.

Carlo Ancelotti's side trail leaders Barcelona by two points after losing at Vallecas, where referee Juan Martinez Munuera and the VAR played a significant part on Monday.

Luka Modric's penalty and an Eder Militao header had put Madrid into the lead after Santiago Comesana's opener, before Alvaro Garcia equalised during a breathless first half.

Yet there was to be more drama when Dani Carvajal was deemed to have encroached as Thibaut Courtois saved a 67th-minute penalty from Trejo, who converted the retake to secure victory.

Comesana fired Rayo into a fifth-minute lead after angling a first-time left-footed shot past Courtois following Fran Garcia's whipped left-wing cross.

Martínez Munuera gave a 37th-minute penalty to Madrid after consulting the touchline monitor following a tangle of legs that saw Marco Asensio felled by Fran Garcia, with Modric coolly converting down the middle from the spot.

Militao directed a header into the bottom-left corner from Asensio's inswinging corner to give Madrid the lead, only for Alvaro Garcia to power a left-footed strike past Courtois to equalise three minutes later.

Courtois saved Trejo's penalty after Carvajal was adjudged to have handled in the second half – again following a review of the touchline monitor – but the Madrid right-back was penalised for encroachment, allowing the Rayo midfielder to find the bottom-right corner at the second attempt.

That was to prove the winner, although Madrid almost salvaged a draw when Rodrygo spurned a glorious 89th-minute chance, turning over Asensio's centre.

What does it mean? Madrid slip up again

With Liverpool confirmed as their next Champions League opponents in the last 16, reigning European and Spanish champions Madrid will have to improve both domestically and on the continent after faltering in back-to-back LaLiga games.

A 1-1 draw against Girona coupled with only Rayo's second win against Madrid in 21 LaLiga attempts will leave Ancelotti much to ponder with a game to go before November's World Cup break.

Andoni Iraola will have much to celebrate, though, despite his second-half dismissal for dissent, after Rayo won three league games in a row for just a second time under his stewardship.

Classy Comesana

Comesana appeared to be everywhere for Rayo against Madrid, scoring the opening goal with a coolly taken finish that belied his defensive-midfield position.

The Rayo man was a dominant force in the middle of the park as well, though, creating three chances and regaining possession eight times – both game-leading figures in just 79 minutes.

Defensive issues for Madrid

Madrid often relied on late fightbacks on their way to Champions League and LaLiga glory last season, perhaps masking their defensive issues.

But Los Blancos have come unstuck this term after keeping just two clean sheets in their first 13 LaLiga games, their lowest tally at this stage of a season since 2013-14 – also under Ancelotti.

What's next?

Madrid host Cadiz on Thursday in their last game before the World Cup break, while Rayo are at home to Celta Vigo on the same day.

Andres Iniesta says the booing of Barcelona players Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique by their own fans is "not pleasant".

The pair were jeered by Barca supporters at Camp Nou when being substituted onto the pitch in last month's win over Villarreal, with their refusal to take pay cuts thought to be the reason for the negative reception.

Barca head coach Xavi spoke out against the booing after the game, and Iniesta has joined his former midfield partner in being displeased with the fans' behaviour.

"It is something that no one likes and does not like, regardless of whether they are colleagues or friends," Iniesta, who ended his 20-year association with Barcelona when joining Japanese side Vissel Kobe in 2018, told AS.

"That your fans whistle you is not pleasant but we know that Barca is a very demanding and particular club. These are situations that have occurred throughout history with great players and people express what they feel at that moment.

"Both Busi [Busquets] and Geri [Pique] are at Barca because they still have the ability to perform, that's how it is. We would all like this not to happen, even those who whistle, because if they do it is because of the club's level of demand."

Barca are second in LaLiga, just a point behind rivals Real Madrid, but another early exit from the Champions League means their wait for a first European title since 2014-15 goes on.

Iniesta believes there is something missing from Xavi's side, adding: "I want Barca, and the people I know and appreciate, to do well.

"Since Xavi came in, the evolution has been very positive and the current squad is super complete in all lines, but there are things that happen and the Champions League is decided by details.

"It is clear that some things are not being done well or not enough to change that dynamic. We haven't been able to handle those details that I'm talking about and that decide play-offs and matches."

Milan forward Ante Rebic has been left out of Croatia's preliminary 34-man squad for the upcoming World Cup in Qatar.

Rebic was a key part of the Croatia team who reached the World Cup final in Russia in 2018, opening the scoring in an impressive 3-0 group-stage win over Argentina in that tournament.

However, the Rossoneri man has only made three Serie A starts this season, and although he has hit the net three times in his seven total league appearances, it has not been enough to enter him into Zlatko Dalic's thoughts.

Rebic last played for his country at last year's Euro 2020.

Luka Modric briefly sparked concerns over his fitness when he missed Real Madrid's Champions League defeat to RB Leipzig this month, but the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner is included on the list, as are Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic and Tottenham's Ivan Perisic.

Croatia will begin their Group F campaign against Morocco on November 23, before facing Canada and Belgium, and they will name their final 26-man squad on November 9.

Croatia preliminary squad in full: Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivica Ivusic (Osijek), Ivo Grbic (Atletico Madrid), Dominik Kotarski (PAOK), Nediljko Labrovic (Rijeka); Domagoj Vida (AEK), Dejan Lovren (Zenit), Borna Barisic (Rangers), Duje Caleta-Car (Southampton), Josip Juranovic (Celtic), Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig), Borna Sosa (Stuttgart), Josip Stanisic (Bayern Munich), Marin Pongracic (Lecce), Martin Erlic (Sassuolo), Josip Sutalo (Dinamo Zagreb); Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter), Mario Pasalic (Atalanta), Nikola Vlasic (Torino), Luka Ivanusec (Dinamo Zagreb), Lovro Majer (Rennes), Kristijan Jakic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Luka Sucic (Salzburg), Josip Misic (Dinamo Zagreb); Ivan Perisic (Tottenham), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Josip Brekalo (Wolfsburg), Bruno Petkovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Mislav Orsic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ante Budimir (Osasuna), Marko Livaja (Hajduk Split), Antonio Colak (Rangers).

Real Madrid will once again be without Karim Benzema when they face Girona on Sunday and Rodrygo is also an injury doubt.

Captain Benzema trained on Friday, but the Ballon d'Or winner is still being troubled by muscular fatigue in his left leg.

Los Blancos head coach Ancelotti on Saturday revealed his star striker has undergone tests, which came back all clear.

But Madrid will not take any risks with the France international's fitness, while forward Rodrygo may also miss the LaLiga clash with Girona at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Ancelotti said of Benzema: "Yesterday he trained, after that he wasn't feeling very well. We had some tests and everything was fine, but we just want to be careful.

"The tests were quite positive, there was no problem at all, but he isn't feeling 100 per cent, so we are going to remain calm with him."

Rodrygo did not train on Saturday due to an unspecified injury and his fitness will be assessed on the day of the game.

Luka Modric, Federico Valverde and Dani Ceballos are set to return for the league leaders.

Madrid were beaten 3-2 by RB Leipzig in the Champions League on Tuesday and Ancelotti expects a response from his players.

The Italian said: "I think the team learned [from the loss to Leipzig] that we need to prep for every game as if it's the most important of the season.

"Sometimes when you play every three days you need to recover physically and it is not easy to always stay motivated."

Carlo Ancelotti's late substitutions paid off as Real Madrid secured a 3-1 LaLiga win over Sevilla on Saturday.

It had initially been a tale of two former Tottenham players as Luka Modric gave Madrid a quick lead on a wet night at the Santiago Bernabeu, before Erik Lamela equalised early in the second half.

Ancelotti's changes made all the difference though, as Lucas Vazquez restored the champions’ advantage just after coming on, with fellow substitute Marco Asensio involved in the build-up, before he also laid on an assist for Federico Valverde to seal victory.

The champions showed they could cope without Karim Benzema, who paraded his Ballon d’Or trophy on the pitch but was only a spectator due to muscular fatigue, as they moved six points clear of Barcelona at the top of the table.

Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed Karim Benzema will start against Osasuna on Sunday and backed the Real Madrid captain to get back to his "spectacular" best.

Benzema has been sidelined for three weeks due to a knee injury but will be in action in the champions' first LaLiga game after the international break at Santiago Bernabeu this weekend.

The France striker has scored four goals in six appearances for Los Blanco this season after an outstanding 2021-22 campaign.

Benzema found the back of the net a staggering 44 times last season as Madrid secured a famous Champions League and LaLiga double. 

Head coach Ancelotti expects the Ballon d'Or favourite to hit those heights again after recovering from an early-season injury setback.

"Benzema is doing very well, he is going to start the game," he said. "He's been with the team all week. His physical condition is good because he was able to recover well and then work well."

When it was put to Ancelotti that Benzema has not looked the same player he was last season, the Italian replied: "Well it's true he didn't score in the last few games – he didn't score because he didn't play.

"There is nothing different with Karim, he's been training very well. Maybe if he didn't have a problem in pre-season, he would not perform this way, but after this injury and time, he didn't play. I'm absolutely sure we are going to see the same Karim Benzema we saw last season, a spectacular player."

Ancelotti revealed midfielder Luka Modric will not face Osasuna and could also miss the Champions League match against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday.

He said: "Modric has a minor injury, not a very serious one. I'm not sure he will make it for Wednesday. He will train on Monday, let's see how he feels. If not fit for Wednesday, he will play next weekend [at Getafe]."

Ancelotti plans to make full use of the options at his disposal with such a hectic schedule to come ahead of the World Cup.

"It's an important moment, with many games in a short time," he said. "League, Champions [League]... We have to think that rotating would be important, because we play every three days. Everyone will give and put in their quality and commitment."

Luka Modric says he is not thinking about any international retirement call ahead of Croatia's Nations League clash with Denmark.

The Real Madrid veteran is looking to skipper his country through to next year's finals in their last major pre-Qatar 2022 World Cup run-out.

Four years on from reaching the final at Russia 2018, Modric is among the elder statesman of the world game on the pitch, at 37, with many wondering if this year's tournament will be his international swansong.

But speaking ahead of their Group A1 encounter at Stadion Maksimir, the playmaker has poured cold water over any imminent exit talk and suggested whatever decision he makes will likely wait for the new year.

"I'm not thinking about that," Modric stated. "I haven't made any decisions. I'm focused on the Nations League.

"We have an opportunity to qualify for the last four, then we have the World Cup and then we will see.

"I'll try to make the best decision. At that that time, I'll talk with our head coach, with the people I trust. I'm not thinking about that at the moment."

Between Croatia's hopes of a finals spot stands Denmark, atop Group A1 and out to follow up last year's Euro 2020 semi-final with another impressive tournament run.

Modric is under no illusion what challenge they possess, adding: "Denmark is an excellent team. I think the biggest strength is the unity of the group itself.

"There are many excellent players, like [Christian] Eriksen or [Pierre-Emile] Hojbjerg from Tottenham. [But] their biggest strength is the group.

"[It is] the togetherness, the fighting spirit, and we need to perform the same way if we want to achieve a good result."

Carlo Ancelotti described Luka Modric as "immortal" after his outstanding display in Real Madrid's 4-1 LaLiga win over Celta Vigo on Saturday.

Modric, 36, restored Madrid's lead shortly before half-time with a sumptuous strike from outside the area after Karim Benzema and Iago Aspas had exchanged penalties.

It marked the first time the Croatia international had scored two consecutive goals from outside the area in the competition since January 2019 when he completed a run of three.

Indeed, more than half of Modric's goals for Madrid in all competitions have been from outside the box (18 out of 32).

He then followed that up in the second half with a superb pass to set Vinicius Junior up for Madrid's third.

The LaLiga and European champions agreed a deal with Manchester United on Friday for the sale of midfielder Casemiro, but Modric hardly looked like he missed the Brazilian.

"Modric's goal changed the game," Ancelotti said. "Until then it had been quite even. Celta were pressing well, but that intensity dropped in the second half.

"Modric is immortal. He's always ready and always plays well."

Aurelien Tchouameni impressed in Casemiro's traditional role at the base of Madrid's midfield three, with no player on the pitch making more clearances (four) or interceptions (three), while he gained possession a joint team-high nine times.

The France international is considered by many to be the natural heir to Casemiro, but Ancelotti does not want to compare the two.

"Tchouameni has different qualities to Casemiro, but today he played very well," the Italian said.

"He showed what he has been showing in training. Without the ball, he defended well. He did well defensively with Modric and [Eduardo] Camavinga."

Substitute Eden Hazard missed the chance to score his first LaLiga goal since May 2021 when his late penalty was saved by Agustin Marchesin.

Benzema gave up the opportunity to take the spot-kick himself – a gesture that was welcomed by Ancelotti.

"I thought it was a very nice gesture from Benzema to Hazard," he added. "It doesn't matter if he missed it, as he normally takes penalties well. It's more important that Hazard has shown an overall good performance."

Real Madrid made it back-to-back wins to start their LaLiga title defence as goals from Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Vinicius Junior and Federico Valverde sealed a 4-1 victory over Celta Vigo.

Carlo Ancelotti's side agreed a deal with Manchester United on Friday for the sale of midfielder Casemiro, but they scarcely missed the Brazilian enforcer in what was a dominant performance against Eduardo Coudet's men at Balaidos.

Benzema opened his league account for the season from the penalty spot early on, before Iago Aspas levelled with a spot-kick of his own midway through the first half.

Modric gave Madrid the lead again with a wonderful strike shortly before half-time, while Vinicius and Valverde were on target in the second half as Los Blancos, who missed a late penalty through Eden Hazard, wrapped up maximum points with the minimum of fuss.

Madrid went ahead in the 14th minute through Benzema's penalty after David Alaba's shot had crashed into the arm of Renato Tapia, the spot-kick given after a lengthy pitchside review from referee Jesus Gil Manzano.

Celta levelled with a penalty of their own in the 23rd minute, Aspas powerfully striking past Thibaut Courtois from 12 yards after Goncalo Paciencia's header was blocked by the arm of Eder Militao.

Los Blancos restored their lead three minutes before the interval, however, when Modric jinked his way to the edge of the area and whipped a sumptuous strike into Agustin Marchesin's top-left corner.

Modric was key to Madrid's third goal as well, the midfielder threading a fine ball through for Vinicius, who rounded Marchesin and slotted into an empty net in the 56th minute.

Valverde then added a fourth 10 minutes later with a clinical finish from 15 yards following a flowing counter-attacking move, before substitute Hazard saw his spot-kick saved by Marchesin after Benzema had been fouled by Hugo Mallo.

What does it mean? Madrid extend run over sorry Celta

Celta had failed to win any of their previous 16 games against Real Madrid in LaLiga (D2 L14), and it was not hard to see why as a dominant Madrid stretched that run to 17.

Despite the loss of Casemiro, Los Blancos look in rude health for the 2022-23 season. This victory meant they have won their opening two LaLiga games in a season for the first time since 2018-19 under Julen Lopetegui.

Masterful Modric

Modric certainly did not seem to suffer from Casemiro's absence. The Croatia international restored Madrid's lead with a wonderful strike – his 18th from outside the penalty area for the club – before setting up Vinicius' goal with a typically incisive pass.

Benzema punishes Celta again

Benzema's early strike from the spot means he has now been involved in an incredible 10 goals in his past four LaLiga games against Celta (eight goals and two assists), including two braces and one hat-trick. They will be glad to see the back of him for a few months at least.

What's next?

Celta are away at Girona on Friday, while Madrid travel to Espanyol two days later – their third consecutive away game to start the season.

Casemiro has crowned team-mates Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as "possibly the best two midfielders in the world".

Madrid ran out 2-0 winners over Eintracht Frankfurt in the Super Cup on Wednesday, thanks to goals from David Alaba and Karim Benzema.

Carlo Ancelotti stuck with the same line-up that had started against Liverpool in May's Champions League final, and midfield trio Casemiro, Kroos and Modric turned in a supreme display.

Modric, the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner, completed 53 of 57 passes (93 per cent) and laid on two chances for team-mates in Helsinki, while Kroos enjoyed 120 touches, completed 97 passes and gained possession nine times.

Only UEFA's man of the match Casemiro (10) bettered that latter figure, and the Brazil international also went close to a spectacular goal when he rattled the crossbar from long range on his weaker left foot – that shot was teed up by Modric.

The trio's performances led Carlo Ancelotti to highlight Madrid's experience as a crucial factor in their victory after full-time, and Casemiro knows he is playing with two of the best in the business.

"We know each other just by looking at one another," he told a post-match news conference.

"I've got an easy job, we're talking about Kroos and Modric who are possibly the best two midfielders in the world. 

"There are things in football that cannot be explained, some things just happen in football. I hope we'll continue to be together for a long time to come."

 

While Madrid's thrilling 2021-22 Champions League triumph saw several energetic cameos by young midfielder Eduardo Camavinga, the 14-time European champions have further bolstered that area of the pitch with the recent acquisition of Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco.

Casemiro welcomes the competition provided by the 22-year-old's arrival and has high hopes for the France international.

"It hasn't annoyed me, everyone knows about my character and loyalty for this club, I'll be working in the same way," Casemiro said.

"You only see the 90 minutes but I'll keep making sacrifices, including on the pitch and in training.

"I think Tchouameni is a top player, this club speaks for itself – everybody gives their all. All I can say to him is keep doing what he's doing, keep showing in training and do it out on the pitch."

Real Madrid have not, yet, rounded off their pre-season. Carlo Ancelotti's team do not start their LaLiga campaign until Sunday, when they take on Almeria.

Yet at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium, the Champions League holders picked up where they left off just over two months ago – with European glory.

A 14th European crown came their way in Paris back in May, when Vinicius Junior's goal – combined with Thibaut Courtois' heroics – saw off Liverpool.

And on a comfortable summer's night in Finland on Wednesday, Madrid's assortment of superstars claimed the club's fifth Super Cup with a 2-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, as Ancelotti's decision to stick with the team that won at the Stade de France was repaid in full. 

Eintracht, who defeated Rangers to win the Europa League last term, performed admirably, but shorn of Juventus-bound talisman Filip Kostic, the Bundesliga side could not cope with the power and quality at Madrid's disposal.

Not that it would have definitely been any different with Kostic in the team, as this was a game won mostly in midfield, that is where Madrid exerted their dominance. Though on the occasions when Eintracht did threaten, particularly in the opening 30 minutes when Courtois made two impressive stops, it would be easy to imagine Kostic, who crafted 420 chances, provided 56 assists and scored 30 goals across 167 appearances for the club after joining from Hamburg in 2018, would have helped their cause.

In a pre-match news conference on Tuesday, Luka Modric – 37 next month – was asked if he planned on asking Ancelotti to manage his minutes with the mid-season World Cup in mind. 

"I speak to the coach every day, but not about that. The coach knows I like playing and I feel better when I play," Modric replied. "I'm feeling good, available to the team to give my all to help the team in every way. The World Cup doesn't change anything for me."

Karim Benzema, who scored Los Blancos' second to become Madrid's outright second leading goalscorer after Cristiano Ronaldo, added: "Age does not come into it."

Benzema's statement rang true. Madrid's starting midfield three of Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro had a combined age of 98, yet surely covered every blade of grass between them, both on and off the ball.

Having spent much of the opening stages looking to drop into space and ping searching diagonals out to Vinicius Junior, who along with Federico Valverde and Eder Militao adds the effervescence of youth to the starting XI, Modric grew into the game as it wore on, finding the pockets of space only he can.

 

The Croatian's mercurial talents were on full show early in the second half, after David Alaba had put Madrid ahead – his tap-in having been teed up by a combination of Benzema and Casemiro. 

In the space of five minutes, Modric linked up exquisitely with Benzema to find Ferland Mendy and create a chance for Vinicius Junior to test Kevin Trapp, who was well beaten from the next opportunity Modric teed up – Casemiro rattling the crossbar from the edge of the box.

Modric's race was run after Benzema made it 2-0 with his 324th Madrid goal (only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more), and the playmaker headed for the bench having completed 53 of 57 passes (93 per cent), with two of those leading directly to opportunities, though those statistics do not tell the whole story. He was simply spellbinding at times, deft flicks and quick feet toying with Frankfurt's hopes and dreams.

And what of Casemiro? His tally of nine tackles led the game, with a sliding challenge on Jesper Lindstrom in the 51st minute a highlight.

Kroos, as Kroos does, went about his business efficiently, without breaking stride. He strolled off with five minutes remaining, making way for big-money signing Aurelien Tchouameni having had 120 touches, completed 97 passes and gained possession nine times, second only to UEFA's man of the match Casemiro (10).

 

Ancelotti, who has now won the Super Cup a record four times after previous success with Madrid (2014) and Milan (2003, 2007), was able to change things up late on, with Antonio Rudiger joining Tchouameni for a competitive debut, but 34-year-old Benzema who lasted the duration.

Benzema's goal came from a familiar source. Vinicius found space down the left channel, drilled in a cross and his partner in crime was there to finish it off. The Brazil forward has now assisted Madrid's number nine 16 times. 

It was he, as Madrid's new club captain following Marcelo's departure, who lifted the trophy. If this evidence, with a team still rounding off their preparations, is anything to go by, it will not be the last piece of silverware he lifts this season.

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