The pre-match hype to the World Cup qualifying game between Wales and Croatia in Swansea was billed as the ‘Gareth Bale and Luka Modric Show’. Both players made their contribution to a match which Croatia won after coming from behind to score twice in the final fifteen minutes. Croatia strengthened their claims for qualification while Wales chance of going to Brazil for the 2014 finals is all but over.
Gareth Bale and Luka Modric are well acquainted with each other having spent four years together at White Hart Lane and particularly during the last eighteen months of Modric’s time at Spurs when they were both very influential in Tottenham’s success. At international level, both players are vitally important to their countries – Bale as an inspiration and goal scorer for Wales while Modric is the creative influence who controls and dictates in midfield for Croatia.
Wales and Croatia came into the game on the back of important wins at the weekend. Wales defeated Scotland although Bale managed to play only the first half due to either a recurrence of his ankle injury or the sickness which had made him doubtful for the game. Croatia had defeated Serbia 2 – 0 at home and were second in their Group level on points with Belgium.
Bale v Modric
Croatia were regarded as favourites to win the game but knew that Gareth Bale could be an obstacle to them taking the three points. Equally, Wales were well aware that they had to be wary of Modric who had played so well in the reverse fixture which Croatia had won 2 – 0. The Wales manager commented on Modric before the game, the Daily Express reporting that he said,
“Is Modric a genius? Yes, I think he is……In Croatia, Modric was outstanding. It didn’t matter what we did with him.”
The Wales captain, Ashley Williams said in the same report,
“There are two world-class players on the pitch – it should make for something good.We will do our work and hopefully our plan will come off. Let’s not forget Gareth. He’s world-class. He deserves that. We love having him here.”
Bale Wins Opening Skirmishes
Croatia opened by playing a high pressing game to deny Wales and Bale time on the ball but Bale managed to cause them early problems. In a Press association match report by Andrew Gwilym which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph, the following was written on Bale’s early contribution in the ‘Bale v Modric battle’.
‘….during the opening half there was only one winner…..Bale was inevitably at the centre of their best moments and as early as the sixth minute when ghosting past Modric before being unceremoniously hauled down by Vedran Corluka….’
His old Tottenham team mate, Corluka, knew how to stop Gareth and earned a booking for his misdemeanour.
Wales put in a good show in the first half and went ahead when Bale scored from the penalty spot after 21 minutes – his 11th goal for Wales and his fifth in six games. Bale later brought a save from Pletikosa and had a further chance to improve Wales’ position but shot over. Wales continued to hold the advantage in the first half and went into the interval with their lead in tact.
Modric Wins the Battle!In the second half, Wales found it more difficult and struggled to retain possession which gave Modric the opportunity to run the game.
The Belfast Telegraph report acknowledged Modric’s influence – ‘But with Modric now enjoying the run of midfield….’.
Croatia built up the pressure on Wales and with Modric in control managed to score twice in the final 13 minutes – the winner coming with three minutes remaining.
Croatia remain level with Belgium but Wales had every right to fell annoyed that they hadn’t made the most of their good performance in the first half.
Gareth Bale and Wales won the opening skirmishes but it was Luka Modric and Croatia who won the final battle and claimed the spoils as victors.