Ivan Rakitic pays tribute to Luka Modric's role in Croatia's success
The Barcelona midfielder confident he and his teammates are well prepared for World Cup quarter-final showdown with Russia on Saturday
Such has been Luka Modric’s influence on this Croatia side that Ivan Rakitic felt compelled to tell his teammates they needed to step into the breach.
The national team captain had missed a penalty towards the end of extra-time in Sunday’s last-16 encounter against Denmark, prompting a shootout for a place in the quarter-finals and threatening to derail Croatia’s burgeoning bid for the title.
As the players gathered in a huddle in Nizhny Novgorod, Rakitic, Modric’s assistant captain and the team’s most celebrated player behind the Real Madrid midfielder, led the rallying cry.
Modric had saved his colleagues many times before, he reminded. Now his colleagues needed to save him.
“There are no words to describe the emotions,” Rakitic said in Sochi on Friday, 24 hours before his side take on hosts Russia in the last eight.
“Our captain deserves first and foremost that we follow him; that at any moment, we do whatever he shows us and to go where he tells us.
World Cup 2018 second round guide and predictions: Croatia to prevail against Russia
"Luckily I’ve been playing alongside him for the past 10 years and each game since he got the armband he’s leading us with a great deal of power, strength and self-confidence. At that moment, we had to repay whatever he gave us on many occasions. We wanted to repay him.
"It was simply an occasion where I spoke out from my heart. He deserves that we follow him and stick with him, and that moment also shows how together we are and how brave we are when we are all united.”
Unity has been key to Croatia’s success at the tournament. It will be needed once more on Saturday, when Zlatko Dalic’s side go up against a reinvigorated Russia in the quarter-final at what will surely be a partizan Fisht Stadium in the country's south.
Croatia are viewed as favourites to reach the last four for only the second time since their independence, almost 20 years to the day that their esteemed class of 1998 took on France - the home side back then, too – for a place in the final.
Croatia lost 2-1 on that occasion, but eventually finished third. It remains their finest World Cup result to date.
“I was a child - I could not go to France, but I remember in my home town in Switzerland we were all crazy,” said Rakitic, now 30. “We rooted for Croatia. We wanted to show our Swiss neighbours how powerful a football nation we are.
"They are our heroes, our inspiration, they brought us to this point. We want to continue on their way and hopefully we can take a step further tomorrow. Let me repeat: they are our big heroes.”
Rakitic is wary Russia represent dangerous rivals. Previously underrated, even written off before the tournament, they slid past a much-fancied Spain on penalties on Sunday to extend an already implausible jaunt through the competition.
Croatia, though, are not taking anything for granted. They have done their homework, Rakitic stressed, and have left no stone unturned.
“I know all about their players,” the Barcelona midfielder said. “We've been briefed in detail about them: how they attack, how they defend. We've analysed them. They have a serious team, who deserve to have reached the quarter-final.
:It is up to us to bring our game to them, to play our game. This is what we'll try to do tomorrow.
“For us, the most important thing is we’ve reached the quarter-finals. We need to think about us and not the opposition. It’ll be a special occasion, beautiful to play Russia like it was beautiful to play [2014 hosts] Brazil last time. We will enjoy our game and we will play to go through.”
Updated: July 6, 2018 09:49 PM