Luka Modric lurked on the edge of the area, waiting for the ball to come to him before perfectly stroking it into the top corner with the outside of his boot. At 35, this may well be the Croatia captain's last European Championship, and he doesn't want to go home just yet.
Modric's majestic goal in the 62nd minute helped Croatia beat Scotland 3-1 on Tuesday and give the team a spot in the round of 16 at Euro 2020 by finishing second in Group D. Croatia will face the runner-up from Group E on Monday in Copenhagen.
“This goal means a lot to me but our play means more, from the beginning until the end," Modric said. "I am happy that my goal helped, but it's most important that the team won.”
Modric, who also picked up an assist on Croatia's third goal, had a quiet first two group matches, with the midfielder forced into deeper positions and Croatia facing criticism for lacking spark in attack. But the playmaker showed his class and why he won the Ballon d'Or in 2018 — the same year he helped his team reach the World Cup final.
He fell to his knees at the final whistle for about a minute before rising to his feet and pumping his fists in celebration. He then went over with a big smile on his face to hug Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic.
“No one is sure how Luka manages it,” Dalic said. "We all expect that Luka's levels would go down and he would lose his strength. But he doesn't give up. I'm very proud to have such a player and to have him as a part of this team."
Modric is now the youngest and oldest player to score for Croatia at the European Championship. He scored when he was 22 years, 273 days against Austria in 2008. On Tuesday, he was 35 years, 286 days.
Croatia's two other goals came from winger Nikola Vlašic's low shot from close range in the 17th minute and Ivan Perišic's flicked header in the 77th from a corner taken by Modric.
"When we play like this, we are dangerous to everyone.”
Vlašic's took two touches for his goal and fired a low shot past Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall. It was Croatia's first real attack of the match after Scotland dominated the opening stages. It was poor defending by wingback Stephen O'Donnell, who let Perišic jump above him unchallenged. Scotland sat back on occasions after the goal, inviting Croatia to push forward in dangerous positions.
“I'm devastated we're not through," Scotland midfielder John McGinn said. "Extremely proud of the effort, but we came up against an excellent team and their experience showed.
Callum McGregor equalized for Scotland just before halftime, drilling the ball from just outside the penalty area into the left corner. Scotland's first goal of the tournament — and its first in a major men's competition since the 1998 World Cup — electrified the atmosphere at Hampden Park, with the Tartan Army jumping and hugging in the stands.
“The fans were amazing,” McGregor said. “They (Croatia) just had too much quality in the end. It's a tough lesson.” Scotland exited the tournament in last place in the group with only one point.
“They knew had to play a third game of the tournament,” Scotland coach Steve Clarke said. “They knew better than we did. A lot to learn from, coach included.”