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Real Madrid World Cup Spotlight: Modric creates magic; Vinicius, Rodrygo, Militao sent home



Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

For 30 minutes after the last-gasp Dutch equaliser, Croatia vs Netherlands looked like a real possibility in the World Cup semifinal. That was the extent of drama in Qatar on Friday night as two South American heavyweights played games with a similar script but different results.

The early kickoff between Brazil and Croatia needed to wait until the 105th minute for its first goal via some Neymar magic. However, they could not hold onto the lead and conceded an equaliser in the 117th minute, leading to a penalty shootout. The flip of the coin went Croatia’s way, and the tournament favourites were thus knocked out.

Argentina found themselves 2-0 up with just over 15 minutes to go but gave up their lead in dramatic fashion in the final seconds of the game. The game proceeded to penalties too, but Emiliano Martinez was on point for his team and took them to a memorable win.

Madrid Universal brings you an overview of the performances of Real Madrid players on the night.

Vincius Jr (Brazil vs Croatia)

Controlling Vinicius Jr is a herculean task, even for the world’s best defenders. Yet, the winger met his match on Friday with Croatia’s right-back Josip Juranovic who gave him a real run for his money.

Continuously marked by a player who could equal him in both pace and anticipation, the Real Madrid forward found it difficult to influence the game. In over an hour on the field, Vinicius had just eight accurate passes and 21 touches, numbers that show how disconnected he was on the night.

He created one good chance in the first half with a lovely one-touch combination play in the opponent’s box that resulted in a shot on target. However, it was tame and easily saved. 

Tite’s decision to substitute Vinicius in such a decisive game has come under the radar, but one can understand why the manager was unconvinced of the winger’s performance on the day. 

Eder Militao (Brazil vs Croatia)

Militao has been largely played out of position at the World Cup. Slowly, yet steadily, he has learnt the ways of a fullback and Friday’s performance highlights the same.

He single-handedly kept the likes of Borna Sosa, Mateo Kovacic and, most importantly Ivan Perisic at bay. While one could still see his discomfort in a foreign position, there was much improvement from his previous game.

He recorded a clearance, two interceptions and three tackles in addition to seven duels won against Croatia in what was a solid defensive show. 

Militao lacked the attacking firepower of a natural fullback in the first half, but made amends and was aggressive in the second period.

He took three shots that were blocked and completed four long balls. Interestingly, Croatia’s equaliser came down his flank just around ten minutes after Militao was replaced.

Rodrygo (Brazil vs Croatia)

Rodrygo will remember this one for years. (Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images)

The youngster replaced Vinicius in the 64th minute and endured a torrid night that would only end with a costly missed penalty.

While on the field during regular play, Rodrygo created more of a threat than his Real Madrid teammate did.

He had two key passes and created a clear goalscoring chance in the 80th minute that Lucas Paquets could not convert. However, he had no shots on the night and did not directly trouble Livakovic. 

In the all-important penalty shootout, the Selecao sent the 21-year-old to take the first penalty. Rodrygo failed to bury his chance, putting Brazil on the backfoot. Eventually, his miss proved costly and sent his team home.

Luka Modric (Brazil vs Croatia)

How does this man not age? Despite being all of 37 years old, the veteran midfielder fought for the ball as ferociously in the 120th minute as he did in the opening minute. Modric’s drive and stamina are something to admire, and Friday’s game showed that.

He recorded a whopping 139 touches in 120 minutes and completed 92% of his attempted passes. The ball danced to his tunes, and he controlled the tempo of the game and overwrote the Brazilian midfield.

Defensively, he was a beast and recorded two blocked shots, an interception and three tackles. Further, he won a whopping nine duels won. 

When it came to the decisive penalty shootout, Modric was on point to keep up Croatia’s 100% scoring rate. The European side did not spare Brazil’s loose penalties and sent them packing with the world left shocked.

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Real Madrid vs Athletic Club: End of an era, farewells, tight race for second place



Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Real Madrid will walk down the tunnel of Santiago Bernabeu one last time this season on Sunday night. The men in white are pitted against Athletic Club on their final match-day, and the game will not be an easy affair by any means.

The Basque side sit in seventh place on the league standings with 50 points in 37 appearances. However, their qualification for the UEFA Conference League is in danger with Osasuna lurking close behind with an equal number of points.

Anything less than a win could prove insufficient for the visitors and it is clear that they arrive at Santiago Bernabeu with nothing less than a win on their agenda. Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Athletic Club Bilbao.

1. The end of an era for the number 9 shirt?

Photo by Florencia Tan Jun/Getty Images

The grey area around Karim Benzema’s future has only widened in recent days. From a situation where his continuity at Real Madrid was taken for granted, it did not take long for the Frenchman’s story to enter a steep deviation.

An economically tempting proposal from Saudi Arabia had Benzema seriously contemplating a move away from Santiago Bernabeu, and reports stated that his departure from the Spanish club was close to complete.

The world, thus, looked in anticipation of his next official interaction with the media. The Ballon d’Or winner publicly addressed the topic for the first time earlier this week, and it is safe to say that his words gave nothing away.

Benzema neither confirmed nor completely refuted the rumours of his exit to the media. His situation is balanced on the blade of a knife and could tip in either direction.

In that sense, there is a good chance that tomorrow’s clash at Santiago Bernabeu is Karim Benzema’s final game for Real Madrid. If the striker does choose to change loyalties, it would mark the end of an era for the team’s number nine position.

It has been over a decade since the Frenchman took over the prestigious kit. He has played 647 games for the club so far in his career, scoring a stunning 353 goals in the process. Of them, 98 have been match-winning contributions.

2. A day of farewells

Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images

Earlier today, Real Madrid announced the departure of Marco Asensio from the club. The Spanish winger appears set to sign for PSG for the 2023-24 season and will bid adieu on Sunday. However, he will not be the only player playing his final game for the club tomorrow.

Nacho Fernandez has been a critical part of Real Madrid’s success in recent years but is another name close to sealing an exit. The defender is not satisfied with the playing time under his belt at the club and has not yet responded to the renewal offer on his table.

With his contract running out in less than 30 days, he appears closer to leaving than staying. One can expect an announcement from Nacho on Sunday night after the game at the Bernabeu, which could be his final game in white.

The situation with Dani Ceballos is quite similar. The Spanish midfielder is still undecided on his future, although there is still a slight chance he could continue at the club. Staying on the subject of players making their final appearance, however, he could be one on the list.

Away from the stories of incomplete renewal negotiations, Mariano Diaz is one player whose departure from the club is confirmed. Ferland Mendy, Jesus Vallejo, Alvaro Odriozola and Eden Hazard are some of the other candidates well-placed to make departures, although nothing can be said for sure.

3. A tight race for second place

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

There is not much to play for on Sunday night except for the emotional tag of it being the season’s final game. Yet, the men in white will not be without an objective against Athletic Club.

Los Blancos sit on 77 points in 37 league appearances this season and just have a one-point lead over third-placed Atletico Madrid. Needless to say, they must be vary of their position on the standings for any complacency could see them drop down the ladder.

Diego Simeone’s men take on fifth-placed Villarreal at the same time as Real Madrid’s game against Athletic Club. Even if Carlo Ancelotti’s men settle for a draw against the Basque side, the second place would be Atletico Madrid’s to lose.

With both games kicking off simultaneously, there will be nerves throughout the ninety minutes in Madrid. One can only hope for action-filled games to keep the anxiety and adrenaline high.

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