ARLINGTON, Texas — Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic says there's no one like his club teammate Lionel Messi, nor will there be anyone approaching his level on the field Tuesday when Croatia takes on Mexico in a friendly.
"This doesn’t exist, not in Mexico, not in Croatia. You have to say that. He’s not the best in the world for nothing — for me, the best in history," Rakitic said after he was asked which Mexico player could be the most similar to Messi. "With all respect to everyone else, If we only talk about one player, not a whole team, there’s no player in the world that even compares to Leo. Leo is unique. We all know that.
"We know tomorrow we’re going to face a very strong group that will put a lot of pressure on us, they’re very aggressive. They have a good atmosphere in their group, they want to give everything for the shirt, and our goal is to be better than them. ... They’re a very strong national team, but having said that, with all respect, it’s very difficult to match Leo."
Rakitic could be tasked with shutting down Messi in a few months, when his Croatia side faces Argentina in the teams' second match of the World Cup.
The midfielder said he'd chatted about the game with his teammate, but noted that Argentina's 2-0 victory against Italy without Messi showed it's not only "La Pulga Atomica" who Croatia will have to worry about.
"They have a ton of talent. They could even take a second team to the World Cup and be able to compete," Rakitic said. "We're preparing well. We know it's not only Argentina, but we have a very complicated group and [will] try to have the perfect World Cup. First, we have to go through Nigeria. After [that], enjoy the game against Argentina. And after that, [face] our old friends from Iceland to get out of the group.
"Of course, we’ve talked and I’d definitely like us to go through together, but we have to fight a bit and hopefully we can go through together."
After Tuesday's game against Mexico, Croatia faces Brazil on June 3 in England before hosting Senegal five days later. The Croatians open their World Cup against Nigeria on June 16 in Kaliningrad.