Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic is relishing a World Cup showdown with Barcelona team-mates Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano.
Messi and Argentina were placed alongside Croatia, Nigeria and tournament debutants Iceland in a tough-looking Group D at Friday’s draw in Moscow.
Argentina were beaten finalists when Germany triumphed at Brazil 2014, but they needed heroics from Messi, who scored a hat-trick in their final qualifier against Ecuador, to get to the finals this time around.
Rakitic is part of a celebrated Croatia generation who are likely to have their final collective shot at a major tournament in Russia.
“It’s a tough group, it will be big fight,” the 29-year-old told 24 sata.
“I believe we have the quality to go through. I am glad to play against my friends Messi and Mascherano.
“It is a World Cup and we have to face the best. I can’t wait for the World Cup, especially against Argentina.
“Respect towards Argentina and Messi but it makes our motivation even bigger.”
Rakitic’s national coach Zlatko Dalic unsurprisingly took a more pragmatic view and conceded he would rather not be making plans for Messi.
Zlatko Dalić: “It could have been better, it could have been worse. Group D will be a great challenge, but #Croatia has to believe”. #BeProud #Vatreni #FIFAWorldCup #WorldCupDraw pic.twitter.com/xmDGPin5Kf
— HNS | CFF (@HNS_CFF) December 1, 2017
“It could have been better and could have been worse,” Dalic told HTV.
“Nigeria has a young team, very fast. I wanted to avoid those two or three best teams [like Argentina] but we have nothing to lose. They are favourites.”
Iceland and Croatia were paired together in qualification, claiming a win apiece, and Dalic added: “Iceland, we know them well. I spoke to their coach [Heimir Hallgrimsson] and he said, ‘Oh no, not you again’.”
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