By Mark Gleeson
NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (Reuters) - Ivan Rakitic has warned his Croatian compatriots of an Argentine onslaught, enhanced by the special talent of a player he knows all too well -- clubmate Lionel Messi, when the two countries meet in the World Cup on Thursday.
"They have already dropped points and there isn’t much scope for them to miss out on more opportunities, so we expect Argentina to be very aggressive, and since they do have the best player in the world, we are aware that they can make life rather difficult for us," the Croatia midfielder said ahead of the Group D clash at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
Croatia go into Thursday's game top of the group standings after starting their tournament with a 2-0 win over Nigeria on Saturday while Argentina were held to a 1-1 draw by Iceland the same day, including Messi having a second-half penalty saved.
Rakitic, 30, is convinced there will be a feisty reaction, with his Barcelona colleague leading the way.
“In Argentina’s first match, Leo had about eight shots on goal and that penalty opportunity. He could have easily scored two or three but it didn’t play out that way.”
Rakitic has spent the last four seasons playing alongside Messi at Barcelona and said there was no point in attempting special measures to deal with the Argentina captain's talent.
“We have to anticipate and accept the unpredictable.
“We know it is going to be very difficult to play against them, and that is why we need to trust in our assets and play the perfect game.
“To beat Argentina, we’ll have to play the perfect match and we’ll have to work very hard, from the first second to the very last minute of stoppage time," he said at Wednesday's pre-match news conference.
“We have to make things hard for them, prevent them from enjoying their match. But ultimately it is important for us to enjoy such a special opportunity against one of the favourites to win the World Cup and against the best player in the world.
“I think Leo is the best player to ever play the game, and I wish him the best of luck at the World Cup. But not tomorrow,” he added.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Hugh Lawson)