World Cup 2014: Classy Ivan Rakitic ready to reward Croatia gamble against Cameroon

Barcelona-bound midfielder can help Modric outplay Cameroon in Manaus today

There was an easy and obvious option for Niko Kovac, the Croatia coach, as he picked his team to open the World Cup against Brazil in Sao Paulo last Thursday.

Whether to protect his best player, Luka Modric, or to shackle Brazil’s best, Neymar, Kovac could have very legitimately fielded a destructive holding midfielder. Ognjen Vukojevic of Dynamo Kiev, not a man in any mood to compromise with the opposition, would have been perfect.

But Kovac did not follow that course. He partnered Modric instead with Ivan Rakitic, who many thought might have been too similar to the little Real Madrid playmaker to be positioned alongside him centrally. As a sign of attacking courage, and commitment to passing football, it was an impressive statement. Croatia did not win the game – they were unfortunate to be beaten  3-1 – but impressed with their ambition, their control and their incision on the break.

It should not be much of a surprise that Modric and Rakitic work so well together, given their pedigree at club level. Real Madrid have chosen to build their midfield around Modric, with the reward of their long-awaited 10th European Cup last month. Barcelona confirmed this week they will try to do the closest thing possible to their old rivals, but by buying Rakitic instead.

 

The 26-year-old joins a Barcelona side desperately needing more inspiration in midfield. Xavi, now 34 years old, is not the player he once was and Cesc Fabregas, who never quite fitted in on his return to the Nou Camp as he should have done, has been sold to Chelsea. So Rakitic comes with the burden of re-energising one of the world’s leading teams, of re-starting the engine that feeds Lionel Messi and Neymar.

It is a heavy responsibility but he has always shown a cool head under pressure. Rakitic grew up on the Swiss-German border – the son of Croatian immigrants, who watched Croatia’s great run to the semi-finals at France ’98 with him – and turned down a move to Chelsea as a teenager to stay with Basel. From there he moved to Schalke and from there to Seville, where he excelled and helped win the Europa League last month.

Had Kovac not picked Rakitic, it would have deprived Croatia of a player who would be the most creative, watchable midfielder in almost any other side in the competition. Rakitic is slightly more direct and incisive than Modric, who is more of a controller. The two, in theory, combine to make a platform for the next great young Croatian playmaker, Mateo Kovacic, of Internazionale. Kovacic struggled to get into the game against Brazil on Thursday night but should have a better chance of doing so against Cameroon in Manaus tonight.

Croatia must be aiming for second place in Group A, and Cameroon were so poor in their opening 1-0 defeat to Mexico in Natal that tonight is a good chance for three points for Kovac’s side. Ahead of Modric, Rakitic and Kovacic will be the returning Mario Mandzukic, back from suspension and ready to cause some mischief up front. He is an impressive striker, but will relish the supply coming from behind him.

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week