Ivan Rakitic says he has “enormous respect” for England ahead of their World Cup semi-final rematch in the Nations League.
Croatia came out on top at Russia 2018 after downing England in extra-time, although Zlatko Dalic’s side then lost to France in the final.
England and Croatia played out a goalless draw earlier in their Nations League group but relegation and a place in the tournament’s finals are on the line at Wembley on Sunday.
A draw would send Spain through while defeat for either side means relegation to League B, with the victors heading into the inaugural competition’s end-of-season finals.
Respect was a hot topic between the sides around the World Cup semi with Croatia complaining England had taken victory for granted, but Rakitic knows what to expect when his side face the Three Lions again.
“My respect for them is enormous and it is not a coincidence that they have since been capable of going on and beaten Spain in Spain,” the Barcelona midfielder told UK newspapers. “That performance did not come from a couple of weeks before the game, it goes back to the World Cup.
“It’s not that the tournament opened up for England. It was one of the strongest and most competitive World Cups, with very few games that ended with an easy victory for anyone. Certainly nobody had us down as finalists when the tournament started.”
An unforgettable road to the #WorldCupFinal
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— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) July 12, 2018
The full-time whistle was followed by scenes of delirium as Croatia celebrated reaching their first World Cup final.
“It was just a moment of complete madness for us. I don’t know which player it was who said that we lacked respect because we did not shake hands at the end, but you have to understand this is a moment when we have got Croatia into a World Cup final.” Rakitic added.
“I don’t know how many inhabitants London has – eight million or so – well that’s almost double Croatia’s population. So it’s not that we wanted to show any disrespect to England but it is just in that moment all Croatians wanted to embrace all other Croatians! You felt like you wanted to go to all the continents of the world and hug another Croatian.”
— Ivan Rakitic (@ivanrakitic) July 12, 2018
Croatia successfully stifled England in the semi-final and Rakitic gave an insight into how Dalic’s men approached targeting John Stones during the match.
“The most important thing for us was not to let them play out [from defence] comfortably,” he added. “We knew that Stones was their most important player in terms of playing out. We had analysed him a lot.
“Whenever there is a line of three central defenders, the one in the middle is the focal point. He is the one that comes out and looks to draw the centre-forward in so he can then release someone else.
“We also knew that Stones, after various years with Pep Guardiola, knew how to do that job very well. At Barca there are plays that are rehearsed and trained and I could see that England also had those plays very well-worked.
“A lot of people said we wouldn’t be able to take another extra-time but we played our best extra-time of the tournament. With a little bit of luck we got the second goal with a headed clearance that falls right to Mario Mandzukic.”
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