Tuesday 11 December 2018

Rakitic hopes 'unique unity' can spur his nation to glory

Croatia's Ivan Rakitic answers question at a press conference in Moscow yesterday. Photo: Darko Bandic/AP
Croatia's Ivan Rakitic answers question at a press conference in Moscow yesterday. Photo: Darko Bandic/AP

Paul Hayward in Moscow

Ivan Rakitic believes that Croatia will have "hundreds of millions" of supporters against France tomorrow as neutrals around the world line up behind his nation of four-and-a-half million people.

The Barcelona midfielder spoke of the ferocious unity in the side who knocked out England on Wednesday.

"I think there can be no better feeling than being a Croat," he said.

"To reach such a final is the fulfilment of the best possible dream. The best feeling is to be a Croat and this is the source of all our strength.

"You need only to look at the footage from Croatia to see what's been going on over the past month - the joy felt by the people there. Joy, togetherness unity, pride.

"I think all of us deserve this. It doesn't just concern the 23 players, coaching staff and backroom staff, but the four-and-a-half million people back home. If there was a stadium big enough for all those people, it would be full.

"I'm not trying to say these feelings are superior to the ones the French have for France or Russians have for Russia. We have this special bond. When you put the sacred Croatia shirt on, you become another person.

"We have this togetherness, this unique unity -not just in football. We are exceptional in tennis, handball, basketball, water polo.

Ping-pong "If we were to hold a tournament in ping-pong, all of us would be rooting for that single player. This is something all of us have in us, and it will be in us to the very last moment."

Rakitic, who trained as a draughtsman, has played 70 games this season - 55 for Barcelona and 15 for Croatia. He ran a high temperature the night before the England game but his running was unaffected - so much so that the midfielder, who has given up gluten, was Croatia's second-most mobile player, with 14.5km.

Even after three extra-time games he is not noticeably fatigued.

"There will be excess power and energy - don't worry about that," he said. "There will be four-and-a-half million people on the pitch. We will carry one another.

"We know this is the biggest game of our life and we want to leave the pitch with our heads held high.

"I have this feeling that there will be hundreds of millions of people rooting for us. I have received messages from Argentina, Spain, Germany, from all corners of the world."

Croatia have an unlikely fan in tennis player Novak Djokovic, who is a Serb.

"I tip my hat to him. I root for him," Rakitic said. "We are human beings first and foremost. We have to try to put history behind us. Djokovic is a fantastic athlete but even more fantastic as a person."

Rakitic said he would even sacrifice his career to beat France.

"I would definitely leave my football boots behind on Monday if that was the price I had to pay to win for my country, to win for Croatia."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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