Ivan Rakitic had no idea it would be this stressful. Nor did his neighbours.
On Wednesday afternoon, he paced his living room, jumping up and down, gesticulating wildly, screaming at the TV. He’d been through it all as a footballer – demoralising injuries, a crushing defeat in a FIFA World Cup™ final – but this was torture.
Croatia’s Qatar 2022 life was hanging in the balance. Romelu Lukaku was getting chance after chance. After the longest 90 minutes of Rakitic’s life, however, he was celebrating as hard as he’d celebrated any victory on the pitch. And then, finally, his neighbours could get some peace.
FIFA+ caught up with Rakitic to hear if he considered coming out of international retirement to go to this World Cup, the class of Luka Modric, his former team-mates Dani Alves and Neymar, and a last-16 showdown between Japan and Croatia.
FIFA+: Ivan, did you consider coming out of international retirement to play at Qatar 2022?
Ivan Rakitic: (laughs) I think that it’s very, very hard to say your international career is over. It’s a huge decision, one you give a lot of thought to. I think I did it at the right moment. Of course, it’s very hard for me now, with the World Cup on. I’m supporting the guys, really pleased with what they are doing, very, very proud, but of course it’s hard for me personally. It’s heartbreaking. But I made my decision and I have to stick with it.
How do you feel watching the games from home?
It’s much, much harder to watch the games than to play in them. Believe me. I think in the game against Belgium I lost five years of my life! (laughs)
I was so, so nervous and jumpy. I was in the squad for so many years. I’m in touch with the players and coaches before and after every game. In my heart I’m still a part of it. I wish them the best of luck and hopefully they can go a very long way.
What do you think of Luka Modric’s performances so far at this tournament?
Luka is Luka – he’s played this way for the last 10 years for the national team and Madrid. He’s an amazing player, the most important player for us and one of the best players in the world. I think Luka understands football differently to other great players. The other players benefit a lot from playing with him, following his rhythm, his movement.
Which other Croatians have impressed you at Qatar 2022?
I think the number one is quite clear: Josko Gvardiol. I’d heard so many great things about him, but I think what he did in the first three games was on another level. He was outstanding. I hope he’ll be an important player for us for the next 10, 15 years. I’m certain he’s destined to play at the very top at club level.
Next up is Japan, who beat Germany and Spain and won Group E. What do you think of the Samurai Blue?
I think everyone was really surprised that Japan won the group, and that Germany are out. But when you watch them play, you understand why it happened. They have a lot of individual and team qualities. It will be very hard to play against them. We’ll need to be at 100 per cent against Japan.
You played alongside Dani Alves at Barcelona. What do you think of him playing in the World Cup as a 39-year-old?
There’s only one Dani Alves. He’s absolutely amazing. For me he would always be in my team – if he’s 22, 39 or 45. He’s still really good on the pitch and I think Tite knows how important it is having him in the squad.
Neymar was also with you at Camp Nou. He’s currently trying to shake off an injury. How important is Neymar to Brazil?
If you love watching football, you love watching Neymar. He makes people enjoy the game. He’s a joy to watch. He’s an amazing player and he’s very important for Brazil and Paris [Saint-Germain]. Hopefully his injury isn’t too bad and he can be back soon. I hope we can all enjoy the magic of Neymar at this World Cup.
Which players have most impressed you at Qatar 2022?
I like the young guys, Pedri and Gavi, for Spain. I really like the football they play. [Cody] Gakpo has been really good too. But I think it gets interesting now. Now the games are really tough. Teams really need their big players. Let’s see who can step up.
Who do you think will win the tournament, and how far can Croatia go?
It’s hard to say. I think the favourites are still the same as they were before the tournament: Brazil, Argentina, Spain, England, France.
But what I would say is that I think there are some more surprises coming. I hope Croatia can go as far as they did at the last World Cup, but we have to take in step by step like we did four years ago.