Ivan Rakitic heaped praise on Croatia captain Luka Modric as he reiterated the desire to repay the Real Madrid star heading into Saturday's World Cup quarter-final against Russia.
Rakitic lauded Modric as Croatia trumped Denmark in a dramatic penalty shoot-out to reach the last eight of the showpiece tournament, revealing he told his team-mates they had to give something back to the 32-year-old midfielder.
And Barcelona's Rakitic was glowing in his praise of Modric – who missed a penalty in extra time but converted from the spot during the shoot-out – again on the eve of Croatia's clash at Fisht Stadium in Sochi.
"Our captain deserves first and foremost that we follow him," Rakitic told reporters on Friday. "At any moment, we do whatever he shows us and go where he tells us.
"Luckily, I've been playing alongside him for the past 10 years and each game since he was named captain, he's been leading us with great power, strength and self-confidence.
"At that moment, we had to repay everything he's given us on so many occasions. He was the first... It was simply an occasion on which I spoke from my heart. It also showed how together we are."
While he has only scored once at the World Cup this year, Mario Mandzukic has been a key member of Croatia's starting XI – his work in attack and defence setting the tone for the Balkan nation.
Asked about the striker, Rakitic said: "Mandzukic is very important of course, because of his attitude and approach. First one forward and defending. We know we can rely on him at any minute.
"He is ready and giving his all. Very happy that he is here. You can see he is ready and I hope he is going to play in the same way."
Much of the build-up to the quarter-final match has centred on the iconic 1998 team as the present meets the past.
Croatia finished third at the World Cup in France 20 years ago and the focus has been on whether the current squad can better the achievements of the golden generation.
Boasting Davor Suker and Zvonimir Boban, Croatia stunned Germany 3-0 in the quarter-finals before falling to hosts France in the semis.
"It doesn't' have to be 3-0," Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic said. "1-0 would suffice. It would be a great feat to repeat that win. It's not going to be easy but we are ready.
"We know our qualities. Hard work brought us here and we have to play a good game tomorrow and progress against the host nation and move closer to emulating the Croatia team of '98."