With less than five minutes to play in extra time and Croatia trailing Brazil 1-0 in Friday's World Cup quarterfinal, it looked like Luka Modrić's 160th appearance in that famous checkered shirt would be the captain's last after an inspirational 17-year international career.
But only Modrić gets to decide when he's finished.
He'd been fanatical all evening in a box-to-box role, leading all players with 140 touches, 105 accurate passes and inspiring Croatia's forward thrusts while also screaming back into defense to repel Brazil's attacks with three tackles at a 100% success rate.
As late as the 109th minute, he could be seen sending Fred back to Old Trafford
Cette action ne me laisse pas jusqu’à présent Modric quel fucking player il a aspiré l’âme du pasteur Fred pic.twitter.com/6MK23ICS4T— E’N’T Red-Devil GGMU (@Elhadji_Niebe) December 9, 2022
It was only fitting that Bruno Petković's dramatic equalizer for Croatia in the 116th minute began in Croatia's half with Modrić absorbing a tactical foul from Casemiro before releasing Nikola Vlašić through the middle.
Vlašić gave possession to Mislav Oršić out wide, and he picked out Petković to make it 1-1. Brazil was crushed right then and there.
¡CROACIA NO QUIERE DARSE POR VENCIDO!G⚽️⚽️⚽️L de Croacia
— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) December 9, 2022
Modrić then came up huge in the shootout. After Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livaković had earned his side the advantage, Modrić kept his team rolling by sending Alisson the wrong way with Croatia's third spot kick.
Too easy for Luka ModrićCroatia: ✅✅✅
Brazil: ❌✅ pic.twitter.com/VtZmfRCkFY
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 9, 2022
After running 45 miles throughout the entire 2018 World Cup, it felt like Modrić approached that number on Friday alone. He's already seen his fellow generational talents Ivan Rakitić, Vedran Ćorluka and Mario Mandžukić call it a day, but Modrić looked fresher than any of Brazil's substitutes out there.
— Insónias em Carvão (@insoniascarvao) December 9, 2022
Against Japan in the last-16, Modrić was taken out in the 99th minute before Croatia's eventual shootout triumph. He admitted to being "very tired at the end of the game" but said he'd never even considered it possibly being his final match.
"I don't think about these things, I'm enjoying every game, every minute and for other things there will be time to think. Now I enjoy every moment," Modrić said.
Like the one-year Real Madrid extension he signed back in the summer for at least one final hurrah, Modrić's Croatia career moves forward with at least one more match: an astonishing World Cup semifinal against either Argentina or the Netherlands.