Ivan Rakitic says Croatia will fight for their Euro 2016 place on behalf of injured team-mate Luka Modric.
The Real Madrid midfielder was withdrawn at half-time of Croatia’s 3-0 victory over Bulgaria last week with a groin strain and head coach Ante Cacic has already confirmed he will not risk the 30-year-old against Malta.
Rakitic admitted losing Modric is a blow but says the team are determined to secure the victory that could see them leapfrog Norway and seal an automatic qualifying spot for the Euro 2016 finals, thus avoiding the play-offs.
“It’s not a good situation but it is what it is. His health is the most important thing. We’ll play for him,” the Barcelona midfielder said.
“It’s also proof of our unity that he came with us and wants to be with us.”
Croatia need a victory over Malta and must hope Norway fail to beat Italy in Rome if they are to avoid the play-offs, but Rakitic has urged his team-mates to put their sole focus on the match in Ta’ Qali.
“It’s an honour to wear the shirt and defend the Croatian colours,” said the former Sevilla man.
“We must think about what we’re doing. We know Malta will be very motivated and we must prepare for that. Then we have to hope Italy put in a good game against Norway.”