Dejan Lovren believes his Croatia team-mate Luka Modric should be in Ballon d’Or contention.
Real Madrid midfielder Modric has been at his sublime best so far at Russia 2018, steering Croatia to qualification for the knockout stages with a game to spare.
His superb second goal during the 3-0 demolition of Argentina in Nizhny Novgorod provided the champagne moment within one of the tournament’s statement victories.
Modric also converted a penalty during the opening 2-0 Group D victory against Nigeria and Lovren feels the 32-year-old would be pushing for top individual honours if he was from a more traditionally glamorous footballing nation.
“It is a real pleasure to play with Luka Modric, who is one of the best players in the world right now,” he said during a Sunday news conference at Croatia’s Roschino training base.
“Modric would probably be getting more attention than he is right now if he was a German or Spanish player. He would maybe even be a Ballon d’Or winner.
“Because we are a smaller country, he does get less attention than he deserves.
“All football lovers know Modric is an incredible player. He is one of the best in the world right now.”
Who will prove the best in the world collectively when the World Cup concludes in Moscow next month remains a fiercely debated subject, with matters clouded by an opening 10 days that have often veered from the form guide.
Holders Germany were staring at the prospect of an early exit until Toni Kroos sensationally snatched a 2-1 win over Sweden for Joachim Low’s 10 men deep into stoppage time on Saturday in Sochi.
Brazil also required a late show for their first win of the tournament – Philippe Coutinho and Neymar downing Costa Rica in St Petersburg after the regulation 90 minutes.
Lovren proudly claimed to have watched every game of Russia 2018 so far and he spies a wide-open field that may play into the hands of an accomplished and experienced Croatian generation.
“It has been a surprising tournament and there are no favourites right now, or no teams that are likely to be easy winners,” he added.
“We must respect teams like Germany, Brazil, Spain and Belgium, who are all incredible teams.
“Right now, no one is showing on the pitch that they are far superior than any other team.
“Croatia is a dark horse, a bit of an underdog, but we have to show we play well and we hope to continue to play well.”