World Cup 2018: Ivan Rakitic - unsung hero of the Croatian revolution
You might remember Ivan Rakitic as the scorer of both of Croatia's game winning penalties against Denmark in the World Cup RO16 and against Russia in the quarterfinals, but then again, you might not.
Ivan Rakitic is one of those players you always talk about, but never remember. You remember him as part of the team, but why and how exactly - you have never bothered to ask. He has always been there, and you leave it there.
Standing close to 6 feet, Rakitic's stature undermines his height. On the field, he doesn't look as tall as he should be. He doesn't look as threatening as a defensive midfielder should be. And he certainly doesn't shoot enough to alert the goalkeepers on the opposite end.
But make no mistake about this - Rakitic will fight for the ball, and when you take it from him or not let him take it from you, he will come for you - and hard. And if you push him, you will get shoved back with the intensity of a battering ram. And when he sees the space, he will certainly shoot.
Dele Alli learned this the hard way on Wednesday, as have several players in La Liga. Bought for a modest 18 million pounds from Sevilla, Rakitic was only expected to be an interim try-out - bought for so small an amount that it wouldn't bite the team if he didn't work out.
Apparently, no one told that to him. He took to the team like a duck to water, and within a month he was playing the Barca way of football as good as the players who had been brought up in the system.
Then came the heartbreak of the Euro 2016. Once again tipped to be the dark horses, Croatia fell short of their goal, this time in extra-time after Ricardo Quaresma scored 3 minutes before the end of time.
Fast forward to the 2018 World Cup, as Croatia's golden generation gets its final chance to show to the world that they are not done - their final chance to show everyone that it was only a matter of time before they delivered on their promises.
It is safe to say that they have. Croatia has become the second smallest nation to ever make it to the World Cup finals (Uruguay being the smallest), and thanks in no small part to Rakitic.
Of course, there have been other players who have contributed just as much - Luka Modric, Perisic, Vrsaljko, Vida, Mandzukic - all the XI players who have started every game for the team have given it their 100 percent every time, and in most cases more than one hundred percent.
Croatia have now played 120 minutes in their last 3 games, which means they would have played the equivalent of one whole game more than France when they start the final. No one can say Croatia don't deserve to be where they are at the moment.
The reason I specifically point out Rakitic is because of his consistency. He might not be the most flashy midfielder in the world at the moment, but put him on the pitch and he will certainly give you everything he has got - and then, some more.
To imagine that this Rakitic could have gone on to play for Switzerland instead, it really shows how lucky these things are. Croatia might have still made it all the way till here or maybe Switzerland would be in their place if things had turned out differently, but we can never know for sure.
Since his goal against Argentina, Rakitic hasn't scored or assisted in the World Cup so far. Chances are, he won't in the final as well. And it doesn't even matter. Because you can bet everything you own on the fact that Rakitic will die before he gives it anything less than his 100 percent.
Speaking of his daughter in a recent interview, he said:
We’re trying to predict whether she’s going to be obsessed with football like me, or not care about it at all, like her mother. Right now, she’s kind of in the middle.If I’m at home watching football on TV and somebody scores, she gets really mad. She says, “No! You have to score the goal!”
Ivan Rakitic, there is no greater time to make your daughter proud. Score the goal. And if you don't, know that there are 4.3 million people (and much more) who are proud of you anyway.