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.

Recent history suggests the outcome of Croatia's World Cup Group F opener against Morocco on Wednesday will give a good indication as to how far they can go at Qatar 2022.

After all, Croatia have lost their opening match in three of their five appearances at the World Cup, and on those occasions they failed to get out of the group.

In the two exceptions, they found themselves among the last four, with Zlatko Dalic guiding Croatia all the way to the final four years ago, ultimately losing to France.

While they may have been a little 'Jekyll and Hyde' in nature in the past, there is undoubtedly an underlying feeling of confidence ahead of the matchday one encounter with Morocco at Al Bayt Stadium, the scene of Qatar's 2-0 defeat to Ecuador on Sunday.

Much of the 2018 squad is no longer in the picture, but they still came through qualifying with relative ease and earlier this season topped a Nations League group also featuring Les Bleus and Denmark.

"We just need to take it game by game," striker Marko Livaja said.

"For us, our focus needs to be on the game against Morocco, where we'll need to give 100 per cent, and I think we have really good chances to repeat something similar to what we did in Russia."

Andrej Kramaric added: "We have quality and we can repeat the result from Russia, but it's stupid to talk about it and announce it.

"It's important that we pass the group, and then we'll see what happens."

However, Morocco will believe they can cause a stir after coming through their own qualification campaign in emphatic fashion.

The Atlas Lions won all six games in the second round of the CAF section, scoring 20 and conceding just once – both of which were the second best in the entire round.

They then thrashed the Democratic Republic of Congo 5-2 on aggregate in the third and final stage of qualifying, making them the only team to progress with a winning margin of more than one goal.

Their record at the World Cup is not spectacular, having only ever got out of their group once (1986) in five previous qualifications.

But this will be their second successive appearance at the tournament, a feat they have only accomplished once before, and head coach Walid Regragui clearly has talent at his disposal.

Arguably chief among them is Hakim Ziyech, who provided a reminder of what he is capable of with an outrageous goal from inside his own half in a 3-0 pre-tournament friendly win over Georgia last week.

The Chelsea midfielder, back in the fold after falling out with the previous coach, will be a key leader on the pitch and rallied the troops ahead of the tussle with Croatia.

"We know what we have to do to make everyone proud," he told Morocco's official YouTube channel. "I think for everybody it's a big stage now to show what we are capable of as a team and as a country.

"We are preparing properly. I think we were up to it against Georgia. We feel good, there is a good feeling within the team."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Morocco – Youssef En-Nesyri

While much of the focus will be on talents such as Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi, En-Nesyri will have a lot of the goal-scoring burden on his shoulders. Whether he can cope with that pressure is another matter.

The striker did net against Georgia last week, but generally the Sevilla player has been out of form for 18 months. He has not been helped by injuries, but he has also been wasteful, with his four non-penalty goals in 33 LaLiga games since the start of last season being significantly under his 7.2 non-penalty expected goals (xG) return.

He does have World Cup experience, though, and he will be aiming to become the first Moroccan player to score at two different editions after netting four years ago in Russia.

Croatia – Marcelo Brozovic

Dalic has routinely spoken about how Croatia will focus everything on making the most of their strength: the midfield.

Brozovic has established himself as one of Europe's best deep-lying playmakers over the past four years, and his work allows Luka Modric to push up slightly higher.

Although he has missed a chunk of the season with Inter through injury, Brozovic is averaging the third-most successful passes (60.1) and fourth-most interceptions (1.7) per 90 minutes among Serie A midfielders this term (minimum 350 minutes played), highlighting what he can offer on and off the ball.

PREDICTION

While Morocco certainly have players capable of troubling Croatia, the latter are unsurprisingly clear favourites for this clash.

According to Stats Perform's AI model, Dalic's side have a 47.8 per cent chance of starting their campaign with a win, despite their patchy past record in World Cup openers.

A draw is rated at 27.4 per cent, putting the likelihood of a Morocco win at a marginally lower 24.8 per cent. Nevertheless, it does suggest the Atlas Lions have a credible chance of at least getting a result.

Mohamed Salah is rightly jealous of former Liverpool team-mate Dejan Lovren appearing at the World Cup, according to the Croatia defender.

Lovren is set to feature in the finals for Croatia and the centre-back knows he cannot come up against ex-Reds colleague Salah, who failed to qualify with Egypt.

A missed penalty from Salah in a shoot-out against Senegal in March proved costly as the Pharaohs missed out on a place in Qatar.

Asked on Sunday whether Salah would be jealous of him making it to the tournament, Lovren said: "One hundred percent! I would be jealous too.

"He said he would support me but, to be honest, I'm sad he didn't qualify. He was very close. He said he would come... with the Croatian flag!"

Croatia start their campaign against Morocco on Wednesday.

Salah helped Egypt beat Morocco during the Africa Cup of Nations in January, scoring in a 2-1 quarter-final victory, and he might have been able to give some useful pointers for Lovren.

"Did he give me a tip for Morocco? I didn't ask him, maybe it's too late now," Lovren said.

Lovren helped Croatia finish as runners-up at the 2018 World Cup, playing in the final against France, and he is adamant going one better is not out of the question this time.

In fact, Lovren is taking inspiration from how Liverpool rebounded from losing the 2018 Champions League final to Real Madrid, returning to the showpiece match a year later and beating Tottenham to take the trophy.

"We have everything we need, we just need to show it on the field," Lovren said. "I like this combination of seasoned veterans and young lions. A lot of things need to come together, everyone needs to be in their best shape.

"My personal thought, when I came to Qatar, was that I wanted to win the cup. When you have faith in yourself and in the team, anything is possible."

Lovren, now 33, plays for Russian club Zenit.

He is in the twilight of his international career and added: "If we were so close four years ago, why can't we do it again?

"That's what I said after the Champions League final when we lost to Real in 2018, so we became European champions a year later. Everything is possible in football, you just have to believe."

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).

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).

Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozovic is facing a spell on the sidelines after suffering a thigh injury during Croatia's win over Austria.

Brozovic was withdrawn just 18 minutes into the 3-1 Nations League victory at Ernst Happel Stadion on Sunday.

The Croatian Football Federation on Monday confirmed the 29-year-old sustained a partial rupture of his left thigh and is expected to be out for several weeks.

A statement from the Federation said: "The Croatian national team midfielder, Marcelo Brozovic, underwent an MRI examination today at the Special Hospital of St. Katarina, after exiting due to an injury in the match against Austria.

"The results of the MRI showed a partial tear in the left thigh flexor, so Brozovic is expected to rest for several weeks.

"Further treatment will be taken in charged by the competent Inter doctors, who will also provide a precise recovery prognosis, and the medical service of the Croatian national team will be in constant contact with them."

The loss of Brozovic is a blow for Inter head coach Simone Inzaghi ahead as the Nerazzurri prepare to return to Serie A action against Roma on Saturday, before taking on Barcelona in the Champions League next week.

Victory for Croatia over Austria sealed top spot in Group A1 and a place in the Nations League finals.

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."

It's getting close. We may have had to wait an extra five months than usual, but the 2022 World Cup is now just 100 days away.

A likely last hurrah on the World Cup stage awaits superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, while new names will break through and rising talent will be put to the test.

Eight nations have been champions of the tournament that was first staged in 1930, and it will be France looking to defend the title this time.

Many of us pride ourselves on remembering World Cup trivia from past tournaments, but just how good is your knowledge?

These Opta-assisted 20 questions should sort the group-stage flops from the champions of World Cup quizzing. The answers are below, but don't cheat!

The first...

1. Name the English boss who at Qatar 2022 will become the first to coach a team at both the men's and women's World Cups?

2. Gregg Berhalter will become the first man to serve as player and manager of the USA at the World Cup. He appeared at the 2002 tournament and is now boss of the American side. To which present-day Premier League club did Berhalter then belong, becoming their first World Cup player?

3. Who became the first player to score a Golden Goal winner at the World Cup when he netted for France against Paraguay in a 1998 last-16 clash?

4. In the 2018 showdown between France and Croatia, who became the first player in World Cup final history to score for both teams?

5. Qatar will attempt to become the first nation from the AFC confederation to win their first World Cup finals match. Ten of the previous 11 have lost (including Israel in 1970), but who were the team who in 1982 managed a 1-1 draw against Czechoslovakia?

 

The last...

6. There have been 52 hat-tricks in the tournament's history, but who was the last player to score a treble in the knockout stages of the World Cup?

7. A goalkeeper won his 159th and final international cap at the 2018 finals, when he became the oldest player to appear at the World Cup, at the age of 45 years and 161 days. He saved a penalty in a 2-1 defeat for his team against Saudi Arabia. Who was that goalkeeper and what team did he play for?

8. Ghana reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 2010 and Senegal did so at the 2002 finals. But who were the first team from Africa to make it to the last eight, doing so at the 1990 finals in Italy?

9. Brazil last lost a group game at the World Cup in 1998, since when they have won 12 and drawn three games at the first-round stage. Which team beat them in that 1998 tournament?

10. Cameroon have lost each of their past seven games at the World Cup (between 2002 and 2014). Only one team have ever lost more games in a row in the competition's history – nine between 1930 and 1958. Who were that team?

The most...

11. Just Fontaine scored his 13 World Cup goals in just six games for France. The competition's all-time record scorer is Germany's Miroslav Klose, who netted 16 times for his country in how many appearances: 22, 23 or 24?

12. Who will become the only team to have appeared at all 22 editions of the World Cup when they take part in Qatar 2022?

13. Iran will be making their sixth appearance at the World Cup and have never gone beyond the group stage. Which country has made the most appearances (eight) without making it past the first round?

14. Which forward had the most goal involvements of all players in European qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, scoring 12 and assisting six times in 10 games?

15. Since 1966, only three players have completed more than 12 dribbles in a single World Cup game, with Brazil's Jairzinho achieving 13 against Paraguay in 1970 and Paul Gascoigne matching that total for England against Cameroon in 1990. Who managed the most – 15 in a game against Italy at the 1994 tournament?

 

The GOATs...

16. Which superstar, who scored eight times and provided eight assists in 21 World Cup games, also holds the record for the most handball decisions given against a player at the tournament (seven) since records began?

17. Who holds the record for the most minutes played in World Cup history, having featured in 2,216 minutes of finals action?

18. Portugal great Cristiano Ronaldo is one of only four players to score in four different World Cup tournaments. He will attempt to go one better this year, but Ronaldo currently sits alongside Pele, Klose and which other player?

19. Between them, Ronaldo (seven) and Lionel Messi (six) have managed 13 World Cup goals. How many of those goals came in the knockout rounds?

20. Ronaldo is one of just two European players to have either scored and/or assisted a goal in each of the last five major international tournaments (World Cup/European Championship). Who is the other player to have managed the feat?

 

Answers:

1. John Herdman (Canada – he managed Canada Women at the 2015 Women's World Cup)
2. Crystal Palace
3. Laurent Blanc (France)
4. Mario Mandzukic (Croatia)
5. Kuwait.
6. Tomas Skuhravy (for Czechoslovakia against Costa Rica, last 16, 1990)
7. Essam El Hadary (Egypt)
8. Cameroon
9. Norway
10. Mexico
11. 24
12. Brazil
13. Scotland
14. Memphis Depay (Netherlands)
15. Jay-Jay Okocha (Nigeria)
16. Diego Maradona (Argentina)
17. Paolo Maldini (Italy)
18. Uwe Seeler (West Germany)
19. Zero
20. Ivan Perisic (Croatia)

Former Bayern Munich striker Ivica Olic has labelled Luka Modric as "one of a kind" and believes he still has a few more years left at the top level.

The Real Madrid midfielder has spent 16 years within Croatia's international fold, accumulating over 150 caps for the 2018 World Cup runners-up.

Modric, 36, is in the twilight years of an illustrious career but shows no signs of stopping – and the recent Champions League victory with Madrid was his fifth time lifting the trophy.

While there might soon be a changing of the guard in Madrid's midfield, with the signing of Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco and Eduardo Camavinga already excelling in the squad, the picture is different in the national side.

Croatia's all-time most capped player will remain a key part of the squad heading into the 2022 World Cup and, while it may prove to be his last international tournament, Croatia assistant coach Olic believes Modric will not hang up his boots completely.

"I think Luka still only thinks about games and about playing football. He just still has that will," he told Stats Perform.

"When I look at his philosophy, how much he's working on himself, I think he's going to play for a few more years. 

"After that, if he wants to stay in football, wants to be a coach, then he will definitely devote himself to it and be successful at it."

 

Modric recently stated he remembers every one of his international appearances, and Olic feels he still has plenty to teach the younger players within the squad.

"He recently played his 150th game for the national team. After that game he said he remembered every single one of those 150 games, both the first one, which he played a long time ago, and the most recent one, a few days ago," he added.

"He's still full of vigour, full of will and he couldn't wait to join the national team after a long and difficult season.

"He showed what a captain, what a great player and what a great person he is. He arrived on the first day and is training and playing. He's one of a kind, definitely, regardless of his age.

"He trains and works as if he were 25 years old. I would be happy if he could play more games for us and stay healthy because he means a lot to the team. 

"The younger players still have a lot to learn from him and he's just a phenomenon."

Olic also believes Modric is still "irreplaceable" at Madrid, highlighted by a stunning assist against Chelsea in the quarter-finals.

"The whole world still admires him. He still amazes us with some moves, like recently when they played in the Champions League. Then he played a pass of over 20 or 25 meters with the outside of his foot," he said.

"Everyone has talked about it. No matter where I was, people only talked about it. So, he's still playing at the best level and he's still majestic and unique.

"He's irreplaceable for us and for Real Madrid. The fact that they offered him a new contract shows how much they value him."

Didier Deschamps has told his France players to "clear their heads" after Les Bleus' dreadful Nations League title defence was ended by Croatia.

Luka Modric's fifth-minute penalty at the Stade de France earned Zlatko Dalic's side a 1-0 win on Monday, with Croatia gaining a measure of revenge for their 2018 World Cup final defeat.

The loss means France can no longer finish top of Group A1, and as such prevents them from qualifying for the Nations League finals and retaining their crown.

France are not in action again now until September, when their objective will be avoiding a humiliating relegation from the Nations League's top tier.

They certainly have work to do on that front as they sit bottom of the group after four games, having only mustered two draws and a couple of defeats this month.

Deschamps seemed to blame fatigue for France's struggles but also accepted the players of most other teams will have been in a comparable condition physically.

Speaking to TF1 at full-time, Deschamps said: "This month of June was very difficult in terms of results.

"We didn't have enough energy and strength against teams that had more than us. We weren't successful either. It was above all the freshness that was not there.

"There are always lessons to be learned with these results. Each match is rich in lessons.

"The succession of matches was very hard, we lost players from one match to another. No doubt that others nations were affected [by fatigue].

"[The players] will have to clear their heads and go back to their club and start again for this new season."

The defeat represented the first match since November 2020 in which France failed to score (23 games).

France can no longer successfully defend their Nations League crown after Monday's 1-0 home defeat to Croatia left the finals beyond their reach.

Didier Deschamps' side had flattered to deceive in their first three matches this month, losing once and drawing the other two, and they were no better against a stubborn Croatia at the Stade de France.

They proved to be their own worst enemy with a needless early penalty concession that Luka Modric took full advantage of five minutes in.

The hosts' performance was full of bluster but lacked subtlety, with clear-cut chances difficult to come by on another disappointing day for the reigning world champions.

Ibrahima Konate was the guilty party for the penalty as the Liverpool defender clumsily tripped Ante Budimir and, after a long VAR review, Modric just about squeezed his kick past Mike Maignan.

The game became frantic as Les Bleus desperately searched for a leveller, but Ivica Ivusic was not forced into a meaningful save until early in the second half when substitute Aurelien Tchouameni shot straight at the goalkeeper.

It was a sign of renewed purpose, however, and Kylian Mbappe saw a 30-yard strike go agonisingly wide a few moments later.

Yet, Croatia ended up creating the better chances in the closing stages, with Lovro Majer and Nikola Vlasic forcing saves from Maignan as the visitors gained a measure of revenge for their 2018 World Cup final loss.

Kylian Mbappe should be fit to feature in France's Nations League clash with Croatia on Monday, according to Didier Deschamps.

The Paris Saint-Germain striker was forced off during Les Bleus' 2-1 defeat to Denmark at the Stade de France earlier this month.

Mbappe appeared to sustain the injury innocuously, pulling up after playing a pass to Aurelien Tchouameni.

He sat out the follow-up draw away to Croatia before coming off the bench to score France's late equaliser against Austria.

Deschamps is unsure how long Mbappe can feature for on Monday, but he is seemingly expecting him to be in contention to play some part.

Asked if Mbappe is fit, Deschamps told reporters: "Yes, according to him, although he still has a feeling that is not ideal.

"He is much less uncomfortable than he was at the start of the week when he couldn't train.

"He was ready to do half an hour [against Austria], it was planned. He exercised his knee where he had this discomfort.

"We are doing everything so that he can be there tomorrow."

Another France forward who is having difficulties of a different variety is Antoine Griezmann.

The 31-year-old, who spent this season on loan at Atletico Madrid, has not scored for club or country since his first appearance of 2022, way back on January 6 in a Copa del Rey win over minnows Rayo Majadahonda.

His last goal for Les Bleus was two months earlier in the 8-0 win over Kazakhstan.

Despite his struggles, Deschamps insists he and the team retain belief in the man who played such a key role in their 2018 World Cup success.

"We have all experienced less beneficial periods, when confidence is less," Deschamps added.

"For Antoine, it is not a question of positioning. I have confidence in him, the group has too, he is not at his best but this can happen to anyone."

Defending champions France are bottom of Nations League Group A1 after three games, having only managed draws with Croatia and Austria after losing to Denmark on matchday one.

N'Golo Kante and Lucas Hernandez have dropped out of the France squad ahead of Monday's Nations League showdown with Croatia.

France head into next week's match sitting bottom of Group A1 after following up a shock 2-1 home loss against Denmark with draws away to Croatia and Austria.

The reigning Nations League champions are four points behind leaders Denmark and two adrift of Austria and Croatia with three games remaining and only one team advancing.

Les Blues will be without central midfielder Kante and versatile defender Hernandez for the visit of Croatia at the Stade de France.

Kante misses out due to a knee injury, while Hernandez has been given permission to join his partner, who is due to give birth.

Neither player played any part in Friday's 1-1 draw against Austria, with Kylian Mbappe cancelling out Andreas Weimann's first-half opener in Vienna to salvage a late point.

Luka Modric was relieved his 150th cap was not marked with a loss against a familiar foe, following Croatia's 1-1 draw with France in Split on Monday.

The home side equalised in the 83rd minute via Andrej Kramaric, who sent Mike Maignan the wrong way from the penalty spot, following Adrien Rabiot's goal in transition in the 52nd.

Following a disappointing second-half in their opening Nations League defeat to Austria, Croatia finished the stronger of the two teams following the introductions of Nikola Vlasic and Luka Sucic.

With the Vatreni having never beaten France at senior international level, including World Cup final and semi-final defeats, Modric was thankful his side could salvage a draw.

"Irrespective of the result, thank God we didn't lose," Modric said after the game. "But we can be content with the performance we displayed. We played well, compactly, bravely and that's what we were after.

"I think the players who came in gave us a new energy. They gave us a freshness and aggression, and in the end we scored, we can be pleased as a result. And if we scored with [Ante] Budimir's chance in the first half, the match might have gone in a different direction.

"Then again, we showed we can hold our own against France, for whoever you put in that team, they're always going to be competent, with enough players for three teams."

Playing in his native Dalmatia, Modric became the first player to ever receive 150 caps for Croatia on Monday, following their readmission as a nation by FIFA in 1992.

Also receiving a gift from the France team pre-match to mark the occasion, the 36-year-old was dignified in response.

"This is a phenomenal feeling," he said post-match. "I'm happy and proud that I was able to reach this achievement with Croatia. I really didn't expect this, but there you go, I'm very proud and happy to have done so.

"Thanks to the crowd for their reception. It's enough to make your hairs stand up. Thanks to them for that, and to the French and Deschamps for their gift. I didn't expect that either but it was a beautiful gesture from them."

Fielding an inexperienced side, Didier Deschamps insisted he will continue his search for optimal balance following France's 1-1 draw away to Croatia on Monday.

Following their opening Nations League defeat at home to Denmark, Les Bleus could only manage a point at the Poljud, with Andrej Kramaric equalising from the penalty spot following Adrien Rabiot's opening goal.

Deschamps went back to 4-4-2 after the opting for a 3-5-2 against Denmark, with several starting players under 10 caps including Moussa Diaby, Matteo Guendouzi, Christopher Nkunku and William Saliba.

With that relative lack of experience in mind, Deschamps was buoyant following his side's performance against the other 2018 World Cup finalist.

"We had overall control with two chances for 2-0 but we conceded a few too many situations to this Croatian team at the end," he said post-game. "The lines were stretched, but it was consistent overall. We could also have avoided the loss of possession at times. I can't be completely satisfied even though there are a lot more positives.

"We must also take into account the merit of the opponent. We also gave them the opportunity to equalise with this penalty. There are also all the changes at the end of the match. There were less than 200 caps in the team selected against Croatia. This is no excuse, but there are fewer automatisms."

The Vatreni finished the stronger of the two sides in Split, with chances falling to Luka Sucic and Nikola Vlasic upon their introductions.

France ended the game with a cumulative xG of 0.69 from seven shots in comparison to Croatia's 1.55 from eight, speaking to their growing inability to turn possession into something substantial in front of goal.

With one point out of a possible six, Deschamps insisted that while Les Bleus are not out of Nations League calculations, November's World Cup in Qatar requires experimentation in preparation for their title defence.

"We are in contention," he said after the match. "But with one point out of six, we are not in the best of moods. They are also preparation matches in anticipation of what awaits us at the end of the year. You have to see different things, different players and different systems.

"There were a lot of forced changes with worries and injuries. Compared to my starting lineup, I still have the same concern to put each player in the best conditions.

"We can always improve in defensive animation, but we can have problems with three, four or five [in defence]. I'm not frozen for the next game. But that doesn't mean I'm going to give up. I want to have more answers."

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