- Real Madrid bidding to win third consecutive Champions League titles
- Starts defense of trophy against Apoel Nicosia
- "We are the best team," midfielder Luka Modric tells CNN Sport
(CNN)His nickname is "'Lucky Luka" and no wonder.
Over the course of the past two seasons alone, Luka Modric has won consecutive Champions League titles with Real Madrid, and during the 2017/2018 campaign was key to the club securing a first league and European Cup double since 1958.
But not since the days of Alfredo Di Stéfano has a Los Blancos team won Europe's premier club competition three years running.
Now Modric, who is widely recognized as one of the best midfielders in the world, can move a step closer to joining them in the pantheon of club greats, as Real Madrid attempt to do just that. The defending champion's opening Champions League Group H fixture is against Apoel Nicosia of Cyprus on Wednesday.
"It's going to be difficult, but we have a great team with great players and I think we can respond to all challenges this year," Modric recently told CNN Sport during Real's preseason tour of the US.
"It's going to take hard work and dedication, as we've shown in the last few years. Since I joined, every Champions League has been different, with huge expectations and a lot of challenges on the pitch.
"Teams always give more than 100% against Real Madrid, but I think now it will be the case even more. Everyone always wants to beat the best team in the world -- and at the moment we are the best."
Modric, acquired from Tottenham for £27 million in 2012, has come a long way since readers of Spanish publication Marca voted him La Liga's worst signing five years ago.
The 32-year-old was the heartbeat of the side alongside Toni Kroos during Real Madrid's record 40-game unbeaten run in 2016/17, and played every minute of both the 2016 and 2017 Champions League finals, assisting Cristiano Ronaldo for his 600th career goal in Cardiff in the 4-1 win over Juventus in June.
Once rejected by boyhood club Hajduk Split for being too small, it was no surprise to see him named 2016/17 UEFA midfielder of the season by a panel of European coaches and journalists.
"I think I've changed a lot," said Modric. "I am a person and a player that always likes to learn things and improve.
"Playing with all these great players we possess [at Real Madrid] pushes you forward and helps you to become a better player."
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"We've had difficult moments in the finals, but in the end we showed character, amazing spirit and these moments will stay with us forever."