Nizhny Novgorod, Russia: Croatian soccer star Ivan Rakitic on Wednesday defended his Barcelona teammate - and next opponent in the 2018 FIFA World Cup - Lionel Messi, stressing that no one is more proud than the five-time Ballon d'Or award winner to captain La Albiceleste on the soccer pitch.
Rakitic defended Messi's commitment to his international matches after Messi was heavily criticized for failing to score a penalty shot during Argentina's debut match which ended in a surprising draw against World Cup newcomer Iceland.
Rakitic is set to face his Barça teammate on Thursday, something the Croatian star said he considered an honor.
The 30-year-old midfielder said it was important for the Croatian national team to work together to stop Messi, who in the first match against Iceland - despite a missed penalty - had nine shots on goal.
Rakitic also revealed that he had not spoken to Messi during the World Cup because it was important to stay focused on how to best beat the Argentines.