It was not meant to be. Croatia got further than ever, but in the end, France proved too much. Still, the Croatians can be massively proud of their performance, despite their 4-2 loss in the World Cup final. Of course, most of the focus was on Golden Ball winner Luka Modrić, but in truth, the whole team performed to a very high level.
And if there was a player almost as influential as the Real Madrid star, it was his Barcelona compatriot, Ivan Rakitić.
Rakitić and Modrić worked in a tandem, they were the engine room in every one of Croatia’s performances. Both covered a lot of ground, even as Croatia had to go 120 minutes or more to win knockout matches. Rakitić, in particular, dealt with illness on top of it.
But it wasn’t all running, they both showed technical ability and tactical understanding. They created chances, connected midfield and attack, and scored themselves. What’s interesting is the extent to which both did similar things and complemented each other, to the point that it’s hard to write about one and not the other.
The stat lines paint the picture: Modrić played 694 minutes, Rakitić 638. Modrić played 1.3 crosses per game, Rakitić 1.2. Modrić played 6.4 long balls per game, Rakitić 6. Modrić 0.3 throughballs per game, Rakitić 0.1. Modrić scored twice, Rakitić once. In the final, both players led Croatia with two chances created each. You can keep going.
Rakitić also showed tremendous composure and mental strength, cooly dispatching the winning penalty twice during shootouts. Modrić had missed one in extra time against Denmark which would have given Croatia a win, but he made the one in the shootout, and he scored in the next one, too.
Now, Rakitić goes back to Barcelona, probably exhausted. It wasn’t just playing 120 minutes so much, it’s that he’s done it on the back end of a long season. The final was his 71st match this season, that’s more than any other player in Europe has played. He’s 30 years old, and it’s unlikely he will last the whole upcoming season if he is not given an easy start and lots of rotation.
His performances have made him reach legendary status in his country. He’s already won the Europa League with Sevilla and the UEFA Champions League and La Liga with Barcelona. What’s left for him to do? We shall see this season.