DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The late run. The timing. The delivery. Leo Perišić has certainly learned a thing or two from his father.
While Ivan Perišić has been his usual consistent self at the World Cup to help Croatia reach the semifinals, the winger’s young son has provided one of the more touching moments of the tournament.
After Croatia beat Brazil in a penalty shootout in the quarterfinals, Leo somehow got on the field and sprinted toward the center circle, where Neymar was being consoled by Dani Alves.
The kid, wearing a Croatia jersey with his father’s No. 4 on the back, was initially told to hang back by a Brazilian member of staff. He waited and waited, then reached out a hand toward Neymar. The Brazil superstar spotted him and ended up embracing him.
Now it’s time for his father to seize his moment at the World Cup — and he’s no stranger to that. Because just like teammate Luka Modric, Perišić keeps on proving he is the man for the big occasion for Croatia.
Like scoring in the World Cup final in 2018. Like finding the net in five straight major tournaments to be the all-time top scorer in them for his country, with 10 goals. Like digging Croatia out of a hole against Japan in the round of 16 last week by heading in the equalizer, just when his team seemed out of ideas.
Perišić is still going strong at the age of 33, still a permanent fixture on the left wing for his national team and still showing his ability to deliver crosses with both feet and make those late runs into the box.
In that respect, his son has the perfect teacher.
It was put to Perišić on Monday, the day before Croatia takes on Argentina in the semifinals, that he should be regarded as a World Cup great for what he has done for his national team in 2018 and again this year. As modest as ever, he played it down.
“I said a lot of times, it is not so much about the goals or the records for me,” he said through an interpreter. “It is just important that the national team, or your club team, is winning. If I do a couple of goals or assists, it is a plus. I do what I am asked to do.”
For Croatia, that means playing on the left side of a three-man attack. It gives him more opportunities to score and set up goals compared to when he plays for Tottenham, where he is used as a wing back by manager Antonio Conte.
Maybe Tottenham is missing a trick.
Because he is two-footed and so good in the air, Perišić is hard to keep down. Just ask Japan, which couldn’t stop him from leaping to meet a cross into the area with a header into the bottom corner from near the penalty spot.
Against France in the World Cup final four years ago, he made it 1-1 with a left-foot shot from just inside the area. It was also Perišić who equalized in the semifinals against England with a flying volley, sparking Croatia’s come-from-behind 2-1 victory in Moscow.
That win over England was described by coach Zlatko Dalić on Monday as the biggest win in Croatia’s history. Perišić said the match against Argentina is just as big.
“I think it’s going to be a similar match,” Perišić said. “England also had a strong squad but it depends a lot on us. If we play the right way, like against Brazil in the quarterfinals, everything is possible.”
While this could be Perišić’s final World Cup, a lot more has been made of it being the last one for Modric, who is still the heartbeat of the team at the age of 37.
That also will be motivating Perišić in the match against Argentina and its star player, Lionel Messi, who is likely playing in his last World Cup, too.
“We saw a couple of days ago that Portugal, with Cristiano (Ronaldo), lost,” he said. “He was here five times at the World Cup and was unable to win.
“Messi with Argentina is trying to do the same in his fifth time. He’ll be doing his best to get to the final and win the trophy. But we will be giving 100% in our performance.”
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports