The 2018 FIFA World Cup begins this month, with 32 teams looking to earn their place in the final. Croatia will be in Group D of the competition, and one Barcelona midfielder will have a significant impact on their chances of advancing.
Ivan Rakitić will be expected to be a key contributor for the Croatian team, and certainly has the ability to influence positive results. The 30-year-old was a part of a hugely successful Barcelona run during the 2017-18 campaign, helping to secure a league and cup double for the Blaugrana.
Now with Croatia this summer, Rakitić faces a unique challenge in terms of reaching the Round of 16 at the World Cup. Group D features stern competition with Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria, and it all begins with a familiar foe.
Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi leads a talented Argentine group aiming to make up for recent failings in major finals and will be a difficult opponent to gain any points from. After their impressive showing at Euro 2016, Iceland make their debut in the World Cup and have their sights set on impressing again.
Nigeria are Croatia’s final group opponent, and the Super Eagles boast tremendous quality throughout their line-up. The likes of Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi will put pressure on defenders in the final third.
Within a tricky collection of teams in Group D, Rakitić and Croatia will need to be at the top of their game to collect enough points for the knockout rounds. Where they have a true advantage is in the midfield, and that will be where they need to exploit the opposition.
Along with captain Luka Modrić and Mateo Kovačić, Rakitić can control the tempo of Croatia’s games in an effective manner. This can be done in various areas of the pitch as well.
When facing Argentina, Croatia will likely have trouble in possession. In this particular fixture, positioning will be vital, as manager Zlatko Dalić’s side must be able to close down space quickly and intercept passes in their own half. With that thought in mind, Rakitić’s ability to win the ball will be important.
Against Nigeria, Croatia will need to emphasise wide areas. With pace on the wings, Nigeria could break down the defence, so Rakitić must be ready to move and react quickly.
Iceland will counter with skilled midfielders of their own in Gylfi Sigurdsson and Aron Gunnarsson, and that match could produce an entertaining battle in the middle. Passing accuracy will be necessary from Rakitić, especially in getting the ball forward to their prolific striker Mario Mandžukić.
Both Rakitić and Modrić will be extremely motivated in what could be their final World Cup appearances, as each player will be inching towards the twilight of their careers. Croatia are up against a group full of quality, and it will be no easy task to reach the next round, but their midfield gives them an excellent chance.
Ivan Rakitić has showcased his skill at the Camp Nou with Barcelona. Now it is time for him to bring the same thrills to the FIFA World Cup with Croatia.