Ivan Rakitic believes Croatia’s blend of talent and experience gives them the opportunity to make a major statement at Euro 2016.
Barcelona midfielder Rakitic was one of a number of Croatia stars who came to prominence during their Euro 2008 run to the quarter-finals – progress that was halted by a penalty shootout defeat to Turkey, who they face in their opening Group D encounter in Paris.
Rakitic is now 28 and stands alongside international team-mate Luka Modric, 30, as one of the most accomplished midfielders in Europe and with plenty of flair alongside that impressive fulcrum, the former Sevilla man believes now is the time to shine.
“It is true that we have a lot of years together,” Rakitic told reporters at a news conference.
“I was talking to Luka [and saying] that it was time to do something serious.
“This Euros will be the best quality in recent years. We will do our best, We believe in our team, we have a nice mix of old and young players in big clubs.”
On whether this is the strongest Croatia side he has turned out for, Rakitic stated his team-mates still have this to prove – although he felt a 10-0 concluding warm-up win over minnows San Marino, featuring hat-tricks from strikers Mario Mandzukic and Nikola Kalinic, offered plenty of encouragement.
“All this is fine, playing in the strongest clubs, but we need to show it on the field,” he said.
“Against San Marino, we played the best match in terms of intensity. I’ve never played a game like this in these nine years.”
Defending champions Spain and Czech Republic complete a round-robin line-up that Turkey coach Fatih Terim felt represented the “group of death” after December’s draw.
The veteran three-time Galatasaray boss, who is also in charge of his national team for a third stint, believes the initial outing at Parc des Princes could come to define Turkey’s tournament.
“Win this match and we decide which road we take,” he said, as quoted by Hurriyet.
“The match against Croatia is a final as far as we are concerned.
“I believe if we do good work we can leave the group.”
Teen sensation Emre Mor might be poised to establish himself as Turkey’s next superstar after securing a move to Borussia Dortmund this been but Arda Turan is likely to be a key figure in any prolonged run in France.
Despite a failing to establish himself as a first-team fixture at Barcelona this season, Rakitic holds his Camp Nou midfield colleague in high regard.
“As a person he is fantastic, the true character of the team – always smiling, likes to joke,” Rakitic added.
“His quality that we need to talk to about could fill a library. He has phenomenal quality on the ball, reminds me of [ex Croatia playmaker Robert] Prosinecki.
“We must be prepared, because he is very dangerous.”
Key Opta stats
– This is Turkey and Croatia’s third European Championship encounter. Croatia won 1-0 in the Euro 96 group stages before Turkey held their nerve from 12 yards after the 1-1 draw eight years ago.
– Turkey have won none of their six games against Croatia during open play (D4 L2) and have also never led at any point during those matches.
– Fatih Terim’s men are appearing in their fourth Euros, with those four qualifications coming in the last six tournaments. They had failed to qualify for any of the previous nine European Championships.
– Croatia have lost just one of their last six group games in the European Championships (W4, D1).
– Mario Mandzukic scored three of Croatia’s four goals at Euro 2012.