Luka Modric believes Real Madrid team-mate Karim Benzema would be a worthy winner of this year's Ballon d'Or, while the midfielder also revealed his opposition to proposed biennial World Cups.

Modric was the first player to end the Ballon d'Or duopoly of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi when the midfielder won the prize in 2018 – it ended 10 years of domination by the two superstars stretching back to Kaka's win in 2007.

Of course, Messi won it for a record sixth time in 2019, and 2020 saw the award cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will make a return this year, with a shortlist of 30 candidates having been announced on October 8.

Among them is Benzema, who has elevated himself to another level at Madrid over the past few years, becoming something of a talisman since Ronaldo's 2018 departure for Juventus.

On an individual level, 2021 has arguably been the best year of Benzema's career, with the striker having a hand in 39 goals (28 scored, 11 assisted) across all competitions, a haul bettered by only Kylian Mbappe (43), Erling Haaland (47) and Robert Lewandowski (48) in the top five European leagues.

Benzema has been especially effective at the start of 2021-22, his 17 goal involvements better than anyone in the big five leagues and giving him an average of one every 52.2 minutes – Florian Wirtz (50 mins) and Haaland (50.4 mins) are the only players (at least 270 minutes played) who have been decisive more frequently.

"Let's see what happens," Modric told reporters when asked about Benzema's chances.

"There are several candidates who can win it. Karim is one of them. He deserves to win it because of how he has played this year and because of his career.

"He has always been at a top level and finally he has now won a title [the Nations League] with France, and that's important when it comes to voting.

"I'm sure he's one of the candidates. Hopefully Karim wins it."

It was Modric's role in helping his country get to the World Cup final that ultimately aided his own Ballon d'Or success, with the gifted playmaker winning the Golden Ball for the tournament's best player.

Yet he feels the competition will lose some of its draw to certain fans – including himself – if FIFA goes ahead with proposals to make it a biennial event rather than being hosted every four years.

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, now FIFA's head of global football development, is among the key figures in the governing body's push to canvas opinion on such a change. The proposals have been widely criticised, and with good reason, according to Modric.

"For me, a World Cup every two years does not make any sense, I wouldn't like it," he said. "It's special because everyone expects it every four years.

"The players are not asked much about it, nor are the opinions of the coaches. They try to do things without asking.

"I don't know what will happen. Me being honest, I wouldn't watch the World Cup every two years."

Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland? How about both? The questions are the same as Real Madrid enter each transfer window. As in 2020, though, such queries are wholly unrealistic.

Prior to last season, which began just six months into the coronavirus pandemic, Madrid were not able to make a single first-team signing. Their most significant business was the €40million sale of Achraf Hakimi to Inter.

It is a similar story 12 months on, having failed to deliver silverware in front of an empty Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium. Free agent David Alaba is Los Blancos' sole recruit and even his arrival is offset by the departures of fellow centre-backs Sergio Ramos – at the end of his contract – and Raphael Varane – with a sale to Manchester United agreed for €50m.

Financial results earlier this month reported a loss in revenue of "close to €300m" due to the pandemic. A post-tax profit of €874,000 for 2020-21 was achieved due to "intense spending saving measures in all areas", read a statement, which added: "With regard to the economic situation, current forecasts indicate that the recovery from the pre-pandemic situation will not be immediate. In this context, the club will continue in the effort so far to contain spending."

One of the world's grandest clubs are doing things on the cheap. A change of coach was only initiated by Zinedine Zidane, whose replacement, Carlo Ancelotti, has been plucked from mid-table Everton – although Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri claimed this week he was offered the position.

Ancelotti has been here before, of course, having led Madrid to 'La Decima' in 2013-14 after a 12-year wait. How he raises the club again without this time breaking the world transfer record two months into the role is another question – one Stats Perform attempts to answer with the aid of Opta data.

Return of rapid Real?

Just as Ancelotti is returning to Madrid, so too is Gareth Bale. It was he who Madrid splashed out €100m on to inspire Ancelotti's first side to Champions League glory. Now he could be handed a starring role again.

The winger appeared to have no future under Zidane but will surely be the chief beneficiary if Ancelotti returns the team to the attacking approach he employed previously at the Santiago Bernabeu. Across his two seasons at the helm, Madrid scored 222 LaLiga goals – 22 more than across the past three campaigns combined now.

That would mean a significant shift, though. Zidane's men have not just scored fewer goals, they have moved at a slower pace. Madrid averaged 4.7 passes and 12.7 seconds per sequence in the league in 2020-21, with 662 open-play sequences of 10 passes or more. In 2013-14, with Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria leading a rapid forward line, Madrid's sequences typically lasted only 3.9 passes and 10.3 seconds, with just 475 10-plus pass sequences. Those numbers only marginally increased in Ancelotti's second season.

 

This change in style is also evidenced by Madrid's direct speed, having moved 1.93 metres upfield per second in 2013-14 but just 1.41 in an average sequence last term. Making the most of the attributes of Bale, Ronaldo and Di Maria, that Madrid team had 122 direct attacks but only 112 build-up attacks – figures that have altered drastically in opposite directions to 87 and 165 respectively.

The football under Ancelotti was undoubtedly exciting and appeals again. Even as he was sacked in 2015, president Florentino Perez said: "The affection that the players and the fans have for Carlo is the same as the affection I myself have for him." Implementing that system again may not be entirely straightforward, though.

Ancelotti arrived in 2013 only a year removed from the 121-goal 2011-12 LaLiga campaign – the most Madrid have ever scored in a season. The Italian gave his superstars the freedom to play but did not need to reconfigure their approach. That tallies with the rest of a glittering career to date, which has chiefly seen him credited with man-managing big names rather than introducing the sort of tactical tweaks that might almost double a team's attacking output.

If that is Ancelotti's desire, though, between Bale, Vinicius Junior and Eden Hazard, Madrid should at least still have the players to tear through teams at pace. Indeed, getting Hazard fit and firing two years and four goals into his LaLiga career will be as crucial as rehabilitating Bale. The former Chelsea forward may put the famed 'diva whisperer' to the test, but Madrid cannot afford to have a €100m man not contributing.

Age is against Ancelotti

Madrid's play without the ball has also changed in the time Ancelotti has been away, and getting them to perform in this regard as they did during his first stint will be more difficult still. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro – Madrid's long-standing midfield trio – were on board when Ancelotti left the club six years ago. Modric will be 36 in September. Class and experience are on their side, but the energy of youth is not.

With Di Maria occupying a key role in the 4-2-3-1 formation and Modric finding his feet in Spain, Madrid pressed relentlessly in 2013-14. Opponents were allowed only 9.3 passes per defensive action (PPDA) amid Los Blancos' 499 pressed sequences. As a result, Madrid's attacks started 42.3 metres upfield on average, boosted by their 179 high turnovers, of which 45 led to shots and nine to goals.

Even Ancelotti could not maintain these standards the following year, as Di Maria departed for the Premier League while a thigh injury restricted Modric to 16 games. Madrid regressed in every category.

In 2021, it is not that Madrid do not press, it is that they do not do so with the same intensity. There were 430 pressed sequences last term and still an impressive 178 high turnovers, but opponents were allowed 11.3 PPDA, with Madrid unable to harry at a comparable rate. It is unlikely that statistic improves as Kroos also moves through his thirties and yet more minutes are pumped into the legs of one of modern football's great midfields. The emergence of Federico Valverde – young and versatile – helps, but Ancelotti may well face the unenviable task of dismantling a unit he helped put together.

 

Alaba alters the complexion

To this point, with a former coach returning to guide the same players, Madrid's approach appears closer to devolution than evolution or revolution. The defence at least will ensure this team has a new sheen, albeit not one that necessarily improves Ancelotti's chances of success at home or abroad.

Alaba is a fine player with vast experience, six years younger than Ramos but with 10 Bundesliga titles and two Champions League triumphs to his name. It is a like-for-like change that makes sense, even with Ramos' emotional ties to the Bernabeu. However, asking Alaba to also replace Varane, the outgoing captain's stalwart defensive partner, feels like a tough ask.

Rather than settle into a new club in a new country alongside a World Cup winner – "Varane, of course, I would like to play with him," Alaba said as recently as last week – Madrid's sole signing seems set to be asked to perform the role of the senior man alongside Eder Militao, who has made just 23 LaLiga starts across two seasons.

Yet Militao crucially has attributes Alaba does not, with the converted full-back far less combative than the two departed defenders. At Bayern, in the Bundesliga last season, Alaba contested only 5.0 duels per 90 minutes – fewer than Varane (5.4), Ramos (6.4) and Militao (7.9) in LaLiga. He won just 55.4 per cent of those, another low as Varane (67.9 per cent) led the way.

Militao could then be tasked with getting tight to opposition forwards, but Alaba might find it tougher to avoid being picked on in the air. He contested a meagre 1.2 aerial duels per 90, down on 2.3 for Varane, 4.3 for Ramos and 5.2 for Militao. As Varane won a league-leading 76.0 per cent of these duels and Ramos came out on top in 63.8 per cent, opponents faced a scrap against either centre-back. Alaba's 51.4 per cent success rate shows why he tends to avoid such encounters.

An area of real strength for Madrid could now become a weakness. Only Sevilla (four) conceded fewer headed goals than Madrid (five) in the league last term, while Real Betis (five goals conceded) were the sole side to be tighter from set-pieces than Zidane's outfit (six). With Ramos and Varane marshalling the area, Madrid faced the fourth-fewest headed attempts (58). They are unlikely to rank as impressively again with 5ft 11in Alaba at the heart of the defence.

Madrid are unlikely to make the most of Alaba's versatility – well stocked at left-back but now short in the middle of the back line – yet his ability on the ball, honed in different roles, should at least help to keep Ancelotti's men on the front foot. Part of a dominant Bayern team, Alaba was involved in 4.6 shot-ending sequences and 0.7 goal-ending sequences per 90, having a bigger hand in such opportunities than Ramos (3.9 and 0.4) or Varane (2.9 and 0.3).

Being able to start attacks from the back plays into the idea Madrid should be set up to again thrill supporters under Ancelotti. Whether they can combine entertainment with results, as the 2013-14 team did so successfully, might be another matter.

Fifty-four passes. In two minutes and 41 seconds of unbroken possession during the closing stages of their Euro 2020 semi-final win over Denmark, England moved to the brink of a 2-1 win in beautifully assured fashion with a 54-pass move. Over the course of the entire additional half hour, they completed 198 passes – more than the Three Lions managed in the entirety of the 1-0 Euro 2000 win over Germany.

Thirty-eight passes. Five days later in the final, Gareth Southgate's team could only manage 38 successful passes in the entire first half of extra time against Italy. That ticked up to 47 during the final 15 minutes of the 1-1 draw but still stood in stark contrast to the supreme example of modern, pro-active game management from the preceding midweek.

Southgate has overseen a period of unprecedented progress during his time in charge of international football's most maligned underachievers. A final for the first time since 1966, back-to-back semi-finals for the first time since 1968. As a major tournament force, England are stronger than they have been at any time over the past half a century by some distance.

But large chunks of Sunday's final defeat to Roberto Mancini's brilliant side felt like they had been transplanted from the bad old days, long before a penalty shoot-out concluded a tale of heartbreak. The lack of control and accompanying slow, sinking feeling could have belonged to any era.

By the final whistle, Italy had completed 820 passes to England's 426. As well as being common to England setbacks of yesteryear, there was also a repeated pattern from two of Southgate's previously most notable defeats in charge. Dictating the terms against elite opponents and being able to wrestle back control during moments of high stress represents something of a final frontier with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar a little over 16 months away.

Verratti and Jorginho torment England like pass masters Modric and De Jong

Leonardo Bonucci scrambled in Italy's equaliser after 67 minutes at Wembley, Luke Shaw having given England a second-minute lead.

When Southgate's team went down to a 2-1 semi-final defeat against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup, Kieran Trippier's free-kick put them ahead in the fifth minute before Ivan Perisic equalised in the 68th and Mario Mandzukic won it in extra time.

In between those two games, England faced the Netherlands in the semi-finals of the inaugural Nations League. Marcus Rashford put them ahead from the penalty spot – yes, he's normally excellent at those – before Matthijs de Ligt equalised in the 73rd minute and the Dutch pulled clear in the first additional period.

First-half leads cancelled out by 67th, 68th and 73rd-minute goals can, of course, just be a coincidence. But England gradually ceded control in each match, conceded and never truly reasserted themselves.

 

On Sunday, Italy had deep-lying playmaker Jorginho and the masterful Marco Verratti calling the tune, while two years earlier the Netherlands had Frenkie de Jong and in Moscow, Luka Modric was at the peak of his powers. Each time, there was a level of midfield expertise to which England had no sufficient answer.

Raw passing statistics can sometimes be misleading. If a central defender racks up more passes than his team-mates – as Bonucci did at Wembley – it does not mean they are the best passer on the field, more that they have a higher frequency of simple passes to make due to their position.

But in the heat of a midfield battle, a player being able to compile pass after pass suggests they might be dictating terms.

At the Luzhniki Stadium, Modric made 71 passes, slightly fewer than his colleagues in the Croatia engine room Marcelo Brozovic (87) and Ivan Rakitic (84). England's starting midfield three – admittedly not a trio who matched up entirely with Croatia in a positional sense – of Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard managed 48, 47 and 38 respectively.

If Modric led an ensemble performance, De Jong conducted England all by himself in Guimaraes a year later. The Barcelona midfielder made 104 passes over the course of 120 minutes, with England's starting midfielders Declan Rice, Fabian Delph and Ross Barkley managing 54, 24 and 56. Only Barkley saw the final whistle, while De Jong's passing accuracy of 96.2 per cent was almost identical to Rice (96.3) at nearly twice the output.

Paired with Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips, Rice had another tall task when taking on Jorginho and Verratti. Once again, it was a case of England chasing around after accomplished technicians.

Paris Saint-Germain's Verratti was in majestic form as he turned the contest in the Azzurri's favour. Of his 118 passes, 111 were successful and 72 came in the England half. Chelsea's Jorginho was similarly efficient with 94 out of 98 completed. Even allowing for Rice's 74th-minute substitution, the Opta statistics for himself (33 passes, 25 completed) and Phillips (39 passes, 30 completed) tell the story of their and England's night.

 

No passing, please, we're English

Despite the weekend sense of déjà vu, it is only fair to credit England with progress when coming up against technically superior midfields.

They gained a measure of revenge against Croatia, who they also beat en route to their Nations League date with the Netherlands, during the group stage and similarly shackled Germany – Toni Kroos, Leon Goretzka, Kai Havertz and all – in a 2-0 last-16 win.

As he did against Die Mannschaft, Southgate switched to a 3-4-3 for Italy and the formation initially overwhelmed Mancini's men, who were attacked repeatedly down their flanks.

This served to remove Italy's midfield superiority as a major factor in the contest until after half-time. Some have criticised Southgate for not being pro-active when the tide began to turn, failing to send on attacking threats such as Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish to give the Azzurri new and different problems.

While those suggestions are valid, it is also fair to ponder whether England would simply have had fresh-legged spectators to the Verratti-Jorginho show. Studying data from the Premier League and across Europe's major divisions this season, it can be concluded that changing formation, funnelling play out wide and pressing judiciously are all work-arounds Southgate and his coaching team have developed for a problem to which they don't have a direct remedy.

 

In England's top flight in 2020-21, Manchester City's Rodri averaged the most passes per 90 minutes of midfielders to have made 20 or more appearances with 91.24. Next on the list were Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic (87.23), Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara (83.32) and Manchester United's Nemanja Matic (83.05), with Jorginho rounding out the top five on 79.68.

Considering players who featured at least 25 times in all competitions across the big five leagues, Verratti comes in second with a fairly absurd 96.86, from Sergio Busquets (94.63), Rodri and Kroos (88.37).

Miralem Pjanic's debut season at Barcelona was an utterly forgettable affair and one that could not be saved by him tiki-takaing himself to a standstill with 104.29 passes every 90 minutes. High passing numbers do not always mean a stand-out performer but illustrate a certain type of player – a type not readily available to Southgate.

Discounting Henderson's 92.85 per 90, given he played so often in 2020-21 at centre-back (meaning he was also ruled out of the Premier League rankings, having finished top at 95.69 from 21 outings), you have to scroll a decent way down this Europe-wide list to find some English representation.

The Premier League supplied three of last season's four European finalists and all of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United boasted brilliant English players who were pivotal to their success. But in each case, overseas players were entrusted with the midfield duties that generally undo England.

Yet, in some respects, Qatar 2022 is further away than it might seem. If Euro 2020 had actually taken place in 2020, it is more likely Shaw, Kyle Walker and John Stones would have missed out on the squad rather than made up three-quarters of Southgate's first-choice defence. Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Reece James, Conor Coady, Jude Bellingham, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Phillips and Grealish had not made their international debuts this time last year.

A lot can change between then and now, so who might emerge as a king of control for Southgate?

 

A nudge from Winks? Skipp to it?

The highest ranked English midfielder on the top-five leagues list is Tottenham's Harry Winks, who averaged 71.47 passes every 90 minutes over the course of 28 appearances.

Only 15 of those were in the Premier League and nine were starts. Getting regular football, largely due to a succession of injury problems, has been a problem for the 25-year-old, who is now being linked with a move away from Spurs.

However, Southgate is a fan and is responsible for giving Winks all 10 of his England caps to date. A Shaw-style renaissance is certainly possible.

One factor that might cause him to seek pastures new is Oliver Skipp's return to Tottenham from a successful loan spell at Norwich City.

While helping the Canaries to promotion from the Championship, the 20-year-old averaged 58.52 passes per 90. Nowhere near the towering numbers posted by Europe's best but the third highest among midfielders to have played 30 or more times in a competition of a very different nature.

Skipp has represented England at under-21 level and the pathway from there to the seniors is clear in the Southgate era.

Winks was the only English midfielder to average above 70 passes per 90 on our European list, although Curtis Jones (68.04) – hoping for a more prominent role at Liverpool this season – and provisional Euros squad member James Ward-Prowse (64.75) are other options who might treat the ball with a little more TLC.

 

Can the men in possession be better in possession?

It might seem perverse to say England need to vastly improve their control in midfield, while claiming Rice and Phillips each had fine tournaments, but both statements are true.

Southgate is not averse to hard-nosed selection decisions but whatever the formation or opponent, the West Ham and Leeds favourites started each match in central midfield. Rice's 12 interceptions were only bettered by Jorginho (25) and N'Golo Kante (14), while the Italy lynchpin recovered possession 48 times – shading Phillips (45) and lying behind Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (51).

With the ball, they did not perform their deep-lying roles like Jorginho or De Jong – even allowing for some of Rice's ravishing first-half dribbles in the final – because they were not asked to. Which leads to the obvious question: could they do it?

Plenty of good judges certainly seem to hold Rice in that regard, as evidenced by persistent links to Chelsea and Manchester United. He averaged 47.7 passes per 90 minutes last season and, for all that they enjoyed a brilliant season under David Moyes, West Ham's average possession figure of 42.53 was the sixth lowest in the division.

To understand the full range of Rice's prowess and potential to be England's metronome, it might be necessary to view him on a weekly basis in a different setting.

The same need not be said for Phillips, who did not pick up his "Yorkshire Pirlo" nickname on account of interceptions or recoveries. Control is not always the primary aim of Marcelo Bielsa's high-intensity and ravenous pressing style, all whirring parts and thrills, but Phillips averaged 52.02 passes per 90 last term in the Premier League.

Again, this is not up there with the elite distributors in Europe, but it is a useful return at odds with his 39 passes over the course of 120 minutes versus Italy.

 

Bridging the gr-8 divide

At Leeds, Phillips will generally have more forward passing in closer proximity than those that were granted to him at Wembley on Sunday. This is where the configuration of Southgate's midfield is worth consideration.

It will be intriguing to see whether he returns to a 4-3-3 with two number eights as opposed to a 4-2-3-1 with two holders and a 10 when England resume World Cup qualifying in September.

The defeat to a De Jong-inspired Netherlands and a wild 5-3 Euros qualifying win over Kosovo later in 2019 were influential in the England boss choosing a more cautious approach for Euro 2020, shelving an expansive 4-3-3.

A run to the final without conceding a goal from open play means that decision cannot really be disputed. But perhaps this newfound defensive solidity means the shackles can be loosened once more, allowing more attack-minded players to operate centrally.

The control that eluded England in the matches discussed above was not simply as a result of metronomic passing. De Jong (16) was second only to Raheem Sterling (20) for dribbles completed at Euro 2020, while Verratti had three carries resulting in a chance. Five from Hojbjerg, Lorenzo Insigne and Gareth Bale topped the list in the competition.

Ability to carry the ball, both to ease pressure through linking the play along with creating chances, sounds like quite a good description of Foden. The Manchester City youngster's injury absence felt more regrettable as the final pressed on.

In pre-recorded introductions for ITV's Euro 2020 coverage, Foden described himself as a central midfielder. It is where he played the vast majority of his youth football for City and during most of his early first-team outings.

But in a 2020-21 campaign when it was hoped he would step forward as David Silva's playmaking replacement, he in fact filled the void left by Leroy Sane and turned in electrifying performances on the left wing.

 

"Phil just needs time to improve playing inside," Pep Guardiola said when discussing Foden's positional change earlier this year.

"When you play as a winger you have to play at one tempo and when you play inside you have to play in another one. When he gets this balance he will be 10 times more extraordinary as a player. It’s just a question of time."

Southgate will have an eye on that ticking clock and also how Mason Mount is used by another esteemed tactician. The Chelsea youngster has played as an eight for club and country but was used almost exclusively in the front three after Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge and plotted a path to Champions League glory.

There are few English players more elegant and effective when it comes to running with the ball at his feet than Grealish. In 2020-21, international team-mate Harry Maguire and Leeds full-back Luke Ayling were the only English players to have more than his 172 instances of carrying the ball towards goal for 10 metres or more. Mount (138) came seventh on that progressive carries list.

But, like Foden and Mount, most of Grealish's best recent work has come in the forward line. The likes of Verratti and De Jong are masters of their craft because they play in their position every week.

Still, dropping one of his twinkle-toed playmakers a touch deeper might become an irresistible work-around, especially if paired with a Henderson back to his talismanic best in central midfield for Liverpool. In 2019-20 he was the heartbeat of the side that won the Premier League, averaging 74.44 passes per 90 into the bargain. Suffering against Modric and Croatia before failing to stem the tide when short of match fitness versus Italy should not cloud perceptions of the 31-year-old's supreme qualities.

Then there is the tantalising prospect of Bellingham's next stage of development under the highly regarded Marco Rose at Borussia Dortmund. The 18-year-old could be frighteningly good by the time the 2022 World Cup rolls around. If Southgate can hit upon a formula for midfield that can both dictate and create, we could be able to say the same for England.

Sergio Busquets believes Spain are growing stronger by the game at Euro 2020 after La Roja defeated Croatia 5-3 in a European Championship classic to reach the quarter-finals.

Luis Enrique's side won their first knockout game at a major tournament since winning Euro 2012 nine years ago, triumphing in a thrilling contest at Parken Stadium on Monday.

Pablo Sarabia, Cesar Azpilicueta and Ferran Torres were all on target to give Spain a commanding 3-1 lead after Pedri's bizarre own goal from 49 yards had put Croatia ahead.

But substitute Mislav Orsic scored one and set up another for Mario Pasalic in the space of seven minutes late on in Copenhagen to set up extra time.

It is the just the second time Spain have conceded three goals in their Euros history, but they won the match through extra-time strikes from Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal, both goals set up by substitute Dani Olmo.

Spain captain Busquets was particularly pleased with the way his side responded to the own goal, with Unai Simon miscontrolling Pedri's backpass and letting the ball roll into his own net.

"Unai knows he's got our total confidence. The goal was bad luck but his mentality is very laidback while remaining ambitious, and he showed that today," Busquets said after collecting the man of the match award at full-time.

"He was ultra-secure after the goal and made some top saves. The team has managed to recover and it is a great victory. This win leaves us good feelings. The team knows what it plays and what it wants. 

"We are a difficult opponent to beat and are growing stronger in this tournament as it goes."

Spain are the first side in European Championship history to score five or more goals in successive games, with five different players registering for La Roja in a single game at a major tournament for the first time.

However, Busquets admits there is room for improvement after giving away a comical opening goal and allowing Croatia a way back into the game when in control with five minutes left.

"We had chances to finish the game off quite early on but we showed character throughout," he said. "When Croatia changed their system, they flooded the pitch high up and we didn't adjust quickly enough.

"Scoring five times and going through still suggests that we have to improve, but to get to the quarter-finals is an indication that we're a good team. 

"We were very good today, very intense, well prepared and we beat a very, very difficult rival here."

Monday's match was the second-highest scoring contest in European Championship history, behind only France against Yugoslavia in the 1960 semi-finals (a 5-4 victory for Yugoslavia).

Croatia ultimately came out the wrong side of the eight-goal classic, and captain Luka Modric accepts his side lacked the quality needed to complete a famous comeback.

"We took the lead from a lucky goal. Afterwards, they were better – at least for the first 60 minutes," he told HRT. "We stood too deep in our half and let them play. 

"When we attacked more, we played better and created more chances and that is where the equaliser came from; when we showed quality and character. 

"At the start of extra time we had them on the ropes but we failed to score from two good chances. Then the game turned around and we didn't have the strength to come back."

We had to wait an extra year, but the Euro 2020 group stage threw up drama and records – and in terms of goals it delivered magnificently.

With the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku hitting their stride, it was a feast for the strikers, with 94 goals scored across the 36 games.

That represented a massive raising of the bar after only 69 goals were netted at the same stage in the 2016 tournament.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the most eye-catching numbers that defined the first 13 days of this delayed tournament – ahead of the do-or-die knockout stage getting under way.

 

Ronaldo making up for lost time

Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player to score as many as five goals in the group stages of a single European Championship since Michel Platini bagged seven for France in 1984, on his way to a nine-goal tournament tally. Three of Ronaldo's goals for Portugal at this tournament have been penalties, while Platini netted just one spot-kick during France's run 37 years ago.

Impressively, Platini's goals in 1984 came from an expected goals (xG) rate of just 3.32, while Ronaldo has recorded his five from a total of 4.71 so far. Opta builds its expected goals data by measuring the quality of an attempt based on variables such as assist type, shot angle and distance from goal, whether it was a headed shot and whether it was defined as a big chance. It means Ronaldo has put away approximately the number of goals he should have expected to score.

Ronaldo scored twice from the penalty spot in Wednesday's 2-2 draw with France, the first game in the history of the Euros to see three spot-kicks scored, excluding shoot-outs.

Defending champions Portugal have been far from perfect, however, dropping a competition-high five points from winning positions.

While Ronaldo has the most goals of any player so far in these finals, he has not been able to keep up with the rising tide of own goals. There have been a staggering eight, as many as were scored between the 1980 and 2016 editions combined.

 

Firing range

Why wait until seeing the whites of the goalkeeper's eyes before offloading a shot?

Patrik Schick had one quick glance towards David Marshall's goal and let fly from 49.7 yards at Hampden Park to put the Czech Republic 2-0 in front against Scotland. That incredible moment gave Schick the longest-range strike on record at the European Championship, with such measured distances available from the 1980 tournament onwards.

There were 304 shots from outside the penalty area in the group stage, but only 12 goals scored from such long range. That ratio of one goal for every 25.3 shots from long distance was nevertheless an improvement on the Euro 2016 numbers, when just 16 goals from outside the area were scored from 638 attempts across the whole tournament – one every 39.9 shots.

 

Low Countries, tall targets

Belgium and the Netherlands are nations who have experienced mixed fortunes on the football field in the 21st century, but both will feel a big moment could be arriving.

The Belgian Red Devils were absent from all major tournaments between their appearances at the 2002 and 2014 World Cups, while the Dutch were conspicuous by their absence from Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Lukaku, with three goals so far, has been a terrific spearhead of the Belgium side, netting 50 per cent of the goals their players have netted (excluding own goals) at Euro 2020 despite only taking 22 per cent of their shots – seven of 32 attempts.

If Lukaku keeps firing, with Kevin De Bruyne and co prompting from midfield, then Belgium, who have never won a World Cup or European Championship, have a strong chance to show why they are ranked by FIFA as the world's number one team.

Belgium exceeded their collective xG tally by 3.15 – scoring seven against xG of 3.85 – the highest number by which any side surpassed their expected goals in their opening three games.

Their neighbours, the Netherlands, have also caught the eye. Ronald Koeman lifted the Oranje from their doldrums and successor Ronald de Boer has guided the team through the group stage as top scorers and with a 100 per cent record.

That Group C success, with eight goals scored and two conceded, came on the back of Georginio Wijnaldum scoring three times. In doing so, he has overtaken Marco van Basten and Dirk Kuyt on the list of the Netherlands' leading international goalscorers, moving to 25, one ahead of the former Milan and Liverpool forwards.

Or, to put it another way, Wijnaldum is halfway to matching Robin van Persie's record haul of 50 international goals.

 

Boring, boring England?

England, by netting only twice, became the lowest-scoring side to ever finish top of a group at a European Championship. They did not so much storm through Group D as plod a methodical path through to the last-16 stage, although an xG of 4.45 suggests England have at least been creating chances, albeit not finishing as well as they might.

Yet England might yet go far. Germany visit Wembley next Tuesday and will encounter English players who have only been dribbled past 12 times in the group stage, the lowest number among all competing teams. England's expected goals against (xGA) tally is a miserly 1.33, the second lowest in the tournament behind an Italy side (1.3) who have got it right at both ends of the pitch to.

Turkey's players were dribbled past on 36 occasions, a group-stage high, and only North Macedonia (8.85) had a higher xGA than Senol Gunes' team (7.69), who failed to live up to 'dark horse' expectations.

 

Riding their luck? Or being all out of it?

Wales conceded just twice, defying an xGA total of 5.47, and reached the knockout stage on the back of that. The gap of 3.47 between expectation and reality with that metric was the highest among all competing teams.

Conversely, Scotland scored just once against an xG of 4.00 – with 3.00 the highest negative difference between xG and goals scored.

Russia bowed out, and could hardly blame anyone but themselves. Their players made three errors leading to goals – more than any other side and the joint-most by any nation at a finals going back to 1980, the point from which records are available.

Hungary also exited the tournament. They predictably finished last in the 'group of death' – adrift of France, Germany and Portugal – but Hungary were surprisingly ahead for more minutes and trailed for fewer than any other team in that Group F campaign.

Denmark squeezed through in second place behind Belgium in Group B, becoming the first team in European Championship history to reach the knockout stages of the competition having lost their first two group stage games. After the alarm of the Christian Eriksen situation, many would love them to go further.

Would you Luka that!

Luka Modric became the oldest player to score for Croatia at the Euros, netting a gorgeous strike in the 3-1 win against Scotland at the age of 35 years and 286 days. That made it an unusual double for the veteran playmaker, who also holds the record for being Croatia's youngest scorer at the tournament (22 years 73 days versus Austria in 2008).

Modric continues to marvel, and there was a slice of history for another midfielder in the group stage as Switzerland's Steven Zuber became only the third player since 1980 to register three assists in a single European Championship game – doing so against Turkey – after Portugal's Rui Costa in his rampaging 2000 display that tormented England and Denmark's Michael Laudrup in 1984 against Yugoslavia.

Steve Clarke spoke of his pride after Scotland's first major tournament appearance in 23 years ended in a 3-1 defeat to Croatia.

But the 57-year-old also shared his belief that the disparity in tournament experience between the two sides was a decisive factor in the Scots exiting Euro 2020 at the group stage.

Having picked up just a point from their opening two games, both Scotland and Croatia needed a win at Hampden Park to secure a place in the round of 16.

And it was the visitors who got it, with Nikola Vlasic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic goals rendering a Callum McGregor equaliser - the first Scottish European Championship goal since Ally McCoist against Switzerland on June 18, 1996 - irrelevant.

Reflecting on the defeat, Clarke told ITV: "I'm proud of the players, the fact they managed to get here for the first time in 23 years, that was a big thing for the country, a big thing for this group of players. 

"I think you saw tonight a team that's tournament-hardened, Croatia, against a team at their first tournament in a long time. 

"We had a little spell just before half-time when we got the goal and looked exciting but Croatia are a top team and they showed that tonight."

Clarke declared a 2-0 defeat to the Czech Republic in the first group game to be a decisive result in an all-too-brief Scotland campaign.

But he has backed his young squad to learn important lessons from their first major international tournament.

He added: "I think we'll go away and learn from it for sure. Obviously starting on the back foot with losing the first game is something you'd need to address in the next one because that set us up for a difficult one. 

"We left everything on the pitch at Wembley against England on Friday and couldn't quite get it tonight. 

"I think through all the three games they've acquitted themselves well, they've tried their best, showed some good qualities. Obviously, as a coach I don't like to concede so many goals, it's something we have to work on a little bit, but we can improve. 

"We've got young players in the squad, it's a relatively young group of players, and we want to improve together and hopefully we can do that."

Captain Andy Robertson echoed his manager's sentiments and urged his team-mates to turn this into a glorious era for Scotland by ensuring they also qualify for the World Cup in Qatar next year.

He said: "We're a squad that still has a lot of potential, still relatively new to this and not a lot of caps between us and it's important we build on this. 

"It's important we don't take this as the high for this squad because we're a good team on our day and now we need to focus on September. 

"I know it's a long way away, we need to go away on holiday and finally rest, but come September we need to try and qualify for another tournament because it can't go another 23 years. 

"We want to be a team that qualifies for many tournaments and it become the norm that Scotland qualify. 

"That's in our own hands, but we'll think about that another day."

As for the Croatia skipper, Modric, he preferred to revel in his nation sealing safe passage to the knockout stages in second place behind England rather than the wonderful curler he netted to set up the win.

The Real Madrid midfielder is now his country's oldest and youngest ever scorer at a European Championship, having done so at both 35 years and 286 days and 22 years 73 days old.

He told Euro2020.com: "This goal means a lot to me but our play means more, from the beginning until the end. I am happy that my goal helped, but it's most important that the team won.

"We are happy because we played a big match and qualified for the next round.

"We were not happy with performances in the first two matches and we knew we could be better. When we play like this, we are dangerous to everyone."

Croatia secured their place in the knockout stages of Euro 2020 and dumped Scotland out as they claimed a 3-1 win in Glasgow.

Having led through Nikola Vlasic's early strike, Zlatko Dalic's men were pegged back before half-time as Callum McGregor notched his country's first Euros goal since 1996.

However, the Croatians' class eventually told, the evergreen Luka Modric netting a stunner before the influential Ivan Perisic headed home from a corner late on, equalling his country's record for the most goals at major tournaments (nine).

And that ensured the visitors clinched second place in Group D while bringing an early end to the Scots' first major tournament appearance since 1998. 

Encouraged by an electric atmosphere at Hampden Park, Scotland made the better start.

But they failed to make the most of their best chance of a frenetic opening period, with Che Adams unable to get a touch on a John McGinn inswinger, allowing Dominik Livakovic to make the save.

And Croatia were not as generous when their first major opportunity came, with Vlasic making the most of space in the box to finish ruthlessly from a Perisic knockdown.

Scotland's chances were dealt a further blow just past the half-hour mark when Grant Hanley limped off, and his replacement Scott McKenna made an inauspicious start that saw a yellow card before a touch of the ball.

However, the Scots levelled things up just before the break when McGregor deftly controlled a panicked clearance before thrashing a low shot into the corner.

With a draw guaranteed to send both sides crashing out, it was no surprise to see them take more chances in looking to carve out attacks in the second period.

Croatia almost made it count when only brave goalkeeping from David Marshall prevented Josko Gvardiol poking home, though the same man was fortunate McGinn could only fire wide after getting on his wrong side moments later.

But it was a moment of sheer quality that eventually broke the deadlock, Modric curling home a beauty with the outside of his boot after slick play around the Scotland box.

The hosts huffed and puffed in the aftermath of that strike but did not really look like scoring before Perisic wrapped things up, flicking a front-post header into the far corner to send his side through.

What does it mean? More to come from Scotland

Although Steve Clarke will have hoped for more, Scotland cannot be too disappointed with their efforts throughout Euro 2020.

Qualifying represented a major achievement in itself, and this young squad will have plenty of opportunities to go one better at major tournaments in the future.

What's next?

England's win over the Czech Republic means Croatia progress as runners-up and will face the team that finishes in the same position in Group E in the last 16, either Sweden, Slovakia, Spain or Poland.

As for Scotland, a first tournament outing in 23 years comes to an end at the group stages.

Luka Modric was left with a "bitter taste" after Croatia had to settle for a 1-1 Euro 2020 draw with the Czech Republic to leave their qualification hopes in the balance.

The 2018 World Cup runners-up were beaten 1-0 by England in their first Group D game and trailed the Czech Republic by the same scoreline at half-time on Friday.

In-form striker Patrik Schick opened the scoring with a controversial penalty after Dejan Lovren appeared to accidentally catch him on the nose with his elbow, referee Carlos del Cerro Grande harshly pointing to the spot following a check on the pitchside monitor.

Ivan Perisic equalised with a rasping drive two minutes into the second half, but Croatia lacked the quality to conjure up a winner at Hampden Park.

Perisic became the first Croatia player to score at four major international tournaments and he may have to come up with something special in Glasgow once again on Tuesday to avoid an early exit.

Croatia face a must-win encounter with Scotland in their final group match and Modric was left to reflect on a missed opportunity.

The captain said: "There is a bitter taste after this match, as we didn't win. We entered the match really disorganised, but then we looked better in the second half.

"We scored that goal and we could have scored even more, but unfortunately we didn't win. Now, we have to defeat Scotland to go through."

Perisic knows Croatia must raise their standards after such a lacklustre start to the tournament.

He said: "We are not playing well, simply not. I don't know the reason. We had a bad start to the match, we scored that goal later, but we have to show much more against Scotland."

The Czech Republic may already have enough points to qualify ahead of their last group game versus an England side that face Scotland at Wembley later on Friday.

Mason Mount is relishing pitting his creative wits against the great Luka Modric when England take on Croatia in their Euro 2020 opener on Sunday.

Real Madrid playmaker Modric was influential as Croatia came from behind to beat Gareth Southgate's side 2-1 after extra time in the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup.

A generation of exciting young talent will try to help England right that wrong at an expectant Wembley, with Chelsea star Mount one of the leading lights.

No Englishman created more goalscoring opportunities than the 22-year-old's 87 in the Premier League in 2020-21. Mount ended the top-flight campaign with six goals and five assists before laying on Kai Havertz's winner in the Champions League final against Manchester City.

Chelsea secured their place in the continental showpiece with a 3-1 aggregate semi-final win over Madrid, and Mount enlisted the help of club team-mate and Modric's international colleague Mateo Kovacic to secure a prized possession – the Ballon d'Or winner's shirt.

"Ever since he was in the Premier League with Tottenham, I have watched him quite closely," Mount said of Modric.

"Playing against him, it was weird because I had watched him so much. I kind of knew his moves and what he was going to do."

Speaking at a pre-match news conference, Modric reprised the row over Croatia's impression of English arrogance at Russia 2018 in the form of the "It's Coming Home" slogan – the chorus line from the Euro 96 song Three Lions, despite it largely being used in self-deprecation by England fans.

"That arrogance is not so much related to the players but the people around them, some of the journalists and commentators," he said.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

England – Raheem Sterling

Southgate looks set to keep faith with Sterling, who only scored one of his 14 Manchester City goals this season after the end of February. If he sees off the claims of Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish for a starting berth, it will be because of his fine form in international colours. Since Russia 2018, no England player has scored more goals from open play than Sterling's 11.

Croatia – Ivan Perisic

Perisic netted the equaliser when the sides met in Moscow and tends to revel on the big stage. The experienced Inter winger is one of three European players to have either scored or assisted in the past for major tournaments since Euro 2012, alongside Andres Iniesta and Cristiano Ronaldo.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- England are taking part in their 10th European Championship finals – no team has played as many games in the tournament without ever reaching the final (31).
- Croatia have lost against the eventual winner in three of their past four major tournaments: Spain at Euro 2012, Portugal at Euro 2016 and France in the final of the 2018 World Cup.
- England have never won their opening game at a European Championship (D5 L4). Croatia, meanwhile, are unbeaten in their five Euro openers (W4 D1).
- Harry Kane was the top scorer in Euro 2020 qualifying, netting in every one of England's eight matches (12 goals), becoming the first player to do this in a single qualification campaign for the Three Lions.
- Since the start of 2019-20, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic (25) has scored more Serie A goals for Milan than Ante Rebic (22).

Luka Modric says there is no greater feeling than playing for Real Madrid after signing a contract extension with the LaLiga giants.

Madrid confirmed on Tuesday that the Croatia international, who would have become a free agent next month, has agreed a new 12-month deal.

That will take the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner through to a decade's service at the Santiago Bernabeu, having arrived from Tottenham for a fee in the region of €35million (£28m) in August 2012.

He has won 16 club trophies during that time, including four Champions Leagues, and remains a key player for Madrid at the age of 35.

Modric is reported to have accepted a pay cut to stay on in the Spanish capital but is delighted to spend at least another year with Los Blancos.

"I'm very happy and proud to stay at this club for one more year," he told Real Madrid TV. "There's nothing better than playing for Real Madrid and there's no better feeling than playing at the Bernabeu.

"Everyone wants to play for Real Madrid and I've been lucky enough to do it. I'm going to be in my 10th year and there's nothing better than representing this great club.

"Nine years of dreams and hopefully the 10th season will also be special.

"It means a lot to me. It makes me very proud and will mean that I'll have been here for almost 10 years. That's incredible, something I didn't even expect.

"I came here when I was almost 27 and the last thing I expected was to be at this great club for so long.

"The demands here are so high and you always have to be at the very best level to deserve to stay here. I'm very happy and proud to remain at this club for another year."

Modric has made 391 appearances for Madrid in total, including 35 LaLiga outings this season – no outfield player featured more regularly for Zinedine Zidane's side.

Madrid won 22, drew nine and lost 4 of those games – a win rate of 62.9 per cent.

Modric ranked fifth in LaLiga this season for attempted passes (2,210) and successful passes (1,948) among midfielders, with Barcelona's Frenkie de Jong leading both metrics (2,785 and 2,560 respectively).

The former Tottenham man's 50 chances created, meanwhile, was bettered only by Osasuna's Ruben Garcia (53), Sergio Canales (59), Toni Kroos (67) and David Ferreiro (73) among LaLiga midfielders in 2020-21.

To further prove that age is just a number, Modric became the oldest player in the Champions League since Ryan Giggs in 2011 to have assists in three successive Champions League games earlier this year.

"I take care of myself every day as much as possible. I know that in a footballer's career, even though it's longer now, you have to remain focused, train well, recover, eat well and rest well," Modric said when asked for the secret to his longevity.

"That's the reason I think I'm still able to play at the level I've done this year. Being at this club requires you to do your best and I'm going to give it my all for as long as I'm here."

Luka Modric has signed a one-year contract extension with Real Madrid, ending speculation over his immediate future.

The former Ballon d'Or winner was on an expiring deal but is now contracted to Madrid until June 2022.

Modric has enjoyed a glittering career with the club since signing from Tottenham nine years ago.

He has won four Champions League trophies in that span and remains a key player at the age of 35.

Club president Florentino Perez confirmed in April that an agreement had been reached, but an announcement was not made until Tuesday, three days after the league season ended with Madrid losing their Spanish title to city rivals Atletico Madrid.

Modric made 35 LaLiga appearances this season, with no other outfield player featuring on more occasions.

The experienced midfielder won the Ballon d'Or in 2018, the same year he led his international team Croatia to the World Cup final.

With Modric confirmed, attention remains on the uncertain futures of head coach Zinedine Zidane and captain Sergio Ramos, who is out of contract.

Luka Modric has signed a one-year contract extension with Real Madrid, ending speculation over his immediate future.

The 2018 Ballon d'Or winner was on an expiring deal but is now contracted to Madrid until June 2022.

Modric has enjoyed a glittering career with the club since signing from Tottenham nine years ago.

He has won four Champions League trophies in that span and remains a key player at the age of 35.

Real Madrid kept alive their LaLiga title hopes with an emphatic 4-1 win over Granada at Nuevo Estadio de Los Carmenes on Thursday. 

The result moved Zinedine Zidane's side above Barcelona into second, two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid with just two games remaining in the season.

Luka Modric got them on their way early on with his fourth league goal of the campaign – the first time he has achieved that since 2011-12 with Tottenham in the Premier League – before Rodrygo doubled their advantage on the stroke of half-time.

Jorge Molina threatened to set up a dramatic finale with a goal 19 minutes from time, but Los Blancos comfortably sealed an 18th win in their last 19 games against Granada thanks to goals from Alvaro Odriozola and Karim Benzema.

Madrid started on the front foot and almost went ahead after 14 minutes, Benzema's header forcing a smart stop from Rui Silva. 

Zidane's men opened the scoring three minutes later, though, when Modric latched onto Miguel Gutierrez's sumptuous flicked ball over the top and rolled through Silva's legs from a tight angle. 

The visitors' dominance was rewarded again in first-half stoppage time when Rodrygo powered into the penalty area down the right-hand side and fired across Silva for his first LaLiga goal of a frustrating campaign.

Granada reduced the deficit inside the final 20 minutes, Molina stroking into an empty net after Thibaut Courtois had parried Luis Suarez's strike into his path. 

Substitute Odriozola settled any Madrid nerves, though, powering home after Eden Hazard's cross had fallen kindly to him in the 75th minute. 

Benzema added gloss to the scoreline a minute later, expertly  into an unguarded net from 35 yards after Silva's slapstick attempt to cut out Casemiro's long ball over the top.

Real Madrid star Luka Modric is not giving up on winning LaLiga following the defending champions' last-gasp draw at home to Sevilla.

The title is no longer in Madrid's hands after they were held to a 2-2 draw by rivals Sevilla in a gripping contest at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano on Sunday.

Toni Kroos' deflected strike off team-mate Eden Hazard deep into second-half stoppage time salvaged a point for Madrid, who are two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid with three rounds remaining.

Modric, though, insisted Madrid must not lose faith after they crashed out of the Champions League semi-finals.

"We were hoping it would be in our hands, but now it's not going to be like that," Modric said post-match. "We have to focus on our game, not the others and try to win the three we've got left.

"All the teams are dropping points. We have to keep believing."

Ivan Rakitic had seemingly secured Sevilla a win that would have blown the title race wide open by scoring a late penalty, before Madrid equalised at the death.

Sevilla had taken the lead in the first half thanks to Fernando in the Spanish capital, where he opened the scoring in the 22nd minute.

Madrid improved in the second half and levelled through Marco Asensio but a remarkable twist left Los Blancos trailing 2-1 with just over 10 minutes to play.

Zinedine Zidane's Madrid had seemingly earned themselves a chance to go 2-1 up as Karim Benzema led a break and was brought down in the Sevilla box by Yassine Bounou.

But a VAR review overturned the decision because a handball offence by Eder Militao was spotted at the other end at the start of the move, and Rakitic converted the spot-kick that was subsequently awarded to Sevilla.

Modric added: "We've dropped two points, we did everything to win the game. We deserved to win, but we've come away with a point. We played quite well, especially in the second half and created a lot of chances, but we didn't convert them and at the end we were awarded a penalty that ended up being a penalty for the other side.

"I'm not sure if it was a handball or not, I didn't see it. It's unlucky, but we're still very much alive, there are three games left to play and we're going to give our all until the end.
 
"We found it difficult to get into the game in the first half, but were much better in the second half. We did everything we could to get the win.

"It's a shame, but we're still there. I'm physically strong as are the rest of the players. We're looking forward to playing our remaining games and trying to win all three of them."

Madrid have not lost in their last 15 LaLiga games (W10 D5), and they conceded again after keeping a clean sheet in the last four. Only on one previous occasion have they kept five consecutive clean sheets in the competition with Zidane as head coach (in July 2020).

Meanwhile, Madrid have conceded eight penalties in LaLiga this season, their joint-highest tally in a single campaign since at least 2003-04 (also eight in 2018-19).

Real Madrid president Florentina Perez has revealed that the club has agreed a new contract with Luka Modric.

The 35-year-old Croatian midfielder, who joined Madrid from Tottenham in 2012, is out of contract in June.

Reports in January alleged that a new deal between Modric and Madrid had been agreed although nothing had ever been announced.

Perez confirmed those reports on Wednesday when discussing the European Super League, while also providing an update on out-of-contract Sergio Ramos.

"[Modric] has already signed or we have reached an agreement a long time ago," Perez said.

"Ramos is not in the same situation. We have spoken many times but I do not know, I do not want to blame anyone."

Perez refused to be drawn on 35-year-old club captain Ramos' future.

"I love him as if he were my son, I have done everything I could for him," Perez said.

"I am not going to tell you anything about Sergio Ramos. We are trying to close this season. Then we will talk about the next one."

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