Croatia’s players and their coach headed home from Russia 2018 as national heroes on Monday. Luka Modric was rewarded for his massive contribution to the Croatian team with a tangible reward, collecting the tournament’s adidas Golden Ball award as the best player of this edition.

“I’m proud of that,” he said. “I would also like to thank all my team-mates, because without their help I would certainly not have received this award.

“We were so close to winning the World Cup itself,” he added. “And we will certainly think about it for a long time. But we can be proud.

“When you see this support of the fans after the match, it definitely makes you happier. We know we did something big here. But when you come so close, it is not easy to take.”

Though justifiably proud, both of his own outstanding performances in Russia and of his team’s spectacular campaign, Modric winced at the fresh and painful memory of their 4-2 Final loss to France in that epic final on Sunday at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

“We fought heroically, we did everything to win, but we were unlucky,” he said. “We were the better team most of the match but unfortunately some unlucky and clumsy goals cost us dearly and gave France the advantage.”

Modric’s assessment was echoed by his coach, Zlatko Dalic, who was gracious in his praise for Les Bleus and generous in his acknowledgement of his players’ Herculean efforts.

“I congratulate France on their title,” said Dalic. “And I also have to congratulate my players. This was maybe the best game we played in this tournament; we controlled the match. But against a side as strong as France, you must not make mistakes. We are a bit sad but we have to be proud as well for what we’ve done.”

No-one had more reason to be proud than Modric, of course, and Dalic was quick to praise his star midfielder for following in the footsteps of Golden Ball winners such as Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane and Diego Maradona.

“We are very glad that Luka has won the Golden Ball, and deservedly so,” said Dalic. “He had a terrific tournament.”

The same, too, could be said of the entire Croatia team, and a heroes’ homecoming is assured. Modric certainly believes that every member of the Vatreni squad can leave Russia with heads held high and memories that will last a lifetime.

“We can be proud of this tournament,” he said. “We played very well. Truly, this was a great tournament for Croatia.”