Mateo Kovacic has backed “amazing” Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric to still be plying his trade at the top level into his 40s as he tries to prevent his close friend from ending Chelsea’s Champions League dreams this week.
The Croatia team-mates will line up on opposite sides when the Blues travel to the Bernabeu for the second leg of their quarter-final clash on Tuesday night.
Real hold a 3-1 lead after an impressive showing in west London last week left holders Chelsea on the verge of elimination.
Modric, 36, played the whole game and remains a vital part of Carlo Ancelotti’s plans as the LaLiga giants go in search of an unrivalled 14th European Cup.
Kovacic has admired Modric for years having played alongside him at Madrid and for Croatia, where the two became friends.
Asked how it felt to come up against the former Tottenham man, Kovacic replied: “It was nice and also difficult because we were losing and it is never nice when you are losing a game and you have a hard time.
“But it was nice to see him and to play against him. I always preferred to have him on my team but in this moment we are against each other and we are ready to show our best tomorrow and to try to go through.
“It’s difficult to stop him because he’s an amazing player. Obviously, he is Croatian and I admired him when I was a child and he played for my favourite club which was in Dinamo Zagreb.
“Now, when we become good friends I admire him even more – a great person, great player and I’m looking forward to to play against him tomorrow again.”
Kovacic, nine years Modric’s junior, believes his compatriot could still be playing amongst the game’s elite for years to come.
“He was always as good as he is now, for me as far as I know in the last five, six or seven years he’s on the same way level, which is amazing,” added Kovacic.
“Why is that good? It is because he loves football so much. He lives it every day. He’s a professional and if he keeps going like this, I see him still playing three, four more years on such a high level.”
Stopping Modric will go some way to giving Chelsea a slim hope of overturning the deficit in Spain – something Kovacic says the players have to believe is a possibility.
“Of course we have our chances and we are motivated to show our best,” he said.
“We didn’t have our best game and the result is not good in the last game but there is hope and we are motivated to try our best so it will be a quality game and we are looking forward.”