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Magic From 36-Year-Old Luka Modrić Ends Messi, Neymar, Mbappé’s UCL Hopes

The Croatian No. 10 engineered a marvelous goal to spark Real Madrid’s stunning comeback against PSG.

With one surging run, Luka Modrić flipped the Real Madrid-PSG matchup on its head. With one nutmeg assist from the diminutive Croatian, the best team in the history of Europe once again showed its dominance in the Champions League. And PSG, despite its unreal attacking talent, is once again exiting the Champions League early.  

Modrić engineered the vital equalizer to spark Real Madrid’s stunning come-from-behind victory over PSG on Wednesday at the Bernabeu, 3-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate. Karim Benzema scored a hat trick to counter two goals across the two legs from Kylian Mbappé, but it was Modrić’s incredible run that gave Real Madrid the belief the comeback was possible.

Luka Modrić is magic. At 36 years old, Real Madrid has brought in several younger midfielders to phase the Croatian out. But time and time again the indomitable midfielder comes up in the biggest moments. 

Real Madrid looked hopeless in the first half against PSG on Wednesday. No one but the offside flag could contain Kylian Mbappé, who made it 2-0 on aggregate with a combination of guile and pace. Neymar, Lionel Messi, Mbappé and Marco Verratti danced around the Madrid defenders with ease, killing off the clock in expert fashion. 

Then, out of nowhere, Gianluigi Donnarumma gifted Real Madrid a lifeline, giving the ball away in his own box before Vinícius Júnior assisted Benzema’s first goal. Maybe Donnarumma was fouled, but goalkeepers are usually given too much benefit of the doubt. 

Still, Los Blancos needed one goal to send the match to extra time, two to win it outright. 

Enter Modrić.

The oldest man on the pitch intercepted a wayward Neymar pass on the edge of his own 18-yard box and immediately turned up field. Modrić ran away from Neymar, sent Verratti the wrong way and eased beyond Nuno Mendes with a few marvelous touches. He spotted Vini Jr. sprinting toward goal and although the Brazilian couldn’t turn in for a shot, he played the ball back to Modrić following up the play. The Croatian collected, spotted Benzema and nutmegged Presnel Kimpembe for the equalizing assist, 20 seconds of absolute magic from one of the greatest midfielders in the world. 

Luka Modrić Assist vs PSG

A mere 11 seconds after the restart, Benzema capitalized on another PSG gift to make it 3-1 — 3-2 on aggregate — and PSG was toast.

Modrić, once again, is advancing in the Champions League. The four-time winner outclassed the PSG midfield, which was too busy celebrating prematurely

There was a moment during Manchester City’s snoozer of a 0-0 draw with Sporting on Wednesday in which Pep Guardiola brought on veteran goalkeeper Scott Carson, comfortable with the 5-0 aggregate lead. I thought to myself, man, that guy looks ancient, before reneging my comment upon realizing he’s only eight days older than me. Luka Modrić is only two days older than me and showing he’s still one of the best midfielders in the world. (He’s also scored some bangers this year, too.)

Karim Benzema certainly deserves a lot of credit for scoring all three goals in the comeback, but to me the man of the hour was Modrić, whose indefatigability in midfield exemplified why Real Madrid is moving on and PSG is going home. As great as PSG’s attacking trio is, the midfield, Verratti aside, is weak. 

And Modrić is magic. 

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