Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic expects Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi to be "uber-motivated" when his side face Argentina at the World Cup on Thursday.
Messi came in for criticism after Argentina were held to a shock 1-1 draw by Iceland in their opening Group D match, in which the forward missed a second-half penalty.
Failure to beat Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod could strike a damaging blow to Jorge Sampaoli's side in their quest to go one better than in 2014, when they lost the final to Germany.
But Rakitic insists there is no player more proud to represent their country or more determined to get them back on track towards success than his club team-mate Messi.
"My impression is not just that he's motivated, but that he's uber-motivated," he told a news conference. "When he goes to Argentina, he has a special smile on his face. I don't think there is a player more proud to wear the jersey than he is.
"I appreciate him as a human and a player, I've seen the way he has been over the last few weeks, he has given his all and he deserves all our respect."
13 – Since 1966, only Luigi Riva has attempted more shots in a World Cup game (13 vs both Sweden and Israel in 1970) without scoring than Lionel Messi did today against Iceland (since 1966). Shocker.#ARGISL #ARG #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/rhnROlfewx— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 16, 2018
Rakitic admits there are not many secrets about Messi that he has been able to divulge to his Croatia team-mates to help them contain him.
"What can I tell them that they or the whole world doesn't know?" he said. "Messi is one of the best players in the world and he'll have his moments. It's up to us to stop him but to play the right way and enjoy the match."
Rakitic compared Messi's influence to that of Luka Modric, a player he feels honoured to play alongside for the national team.
"It's a privilege to play with both," he said. "They're really different in their style. Leo is essential at Barca, by far the most important player, he plays up front with a lot of flexibility. That's what Modric does as well. He's our captain, he's a character, he leads us.
"If I could pick my starting XI, I'd have both in my team. I'm proud to play with such outstanding players. I repeat again: for me, Leo Messi is the best player of all time and I hope he plays as long as he wants."
Indeed, Croatia's midfield has been described as one of the strongest at these finals, something Rakitic was proud to be told.
"Thank you for the implied compliment!" he added. "We try to be strong as a unit. We want to be sure we pass the ball around smoothly and help our team-mates.
"In a country like Croatia, it's very special to have so many big players at big clubs and we want to transfer these qualities to the national team. We hope we'll be able to do that. It's an important match. If we play together, we'll make things easier for ourselves."
16 de diciembre 2018
|Allegri hails ´great professional´ Ronaldo|
|LeBron, Ball first Lakers team-mates with triple-doubles in same game since 1982|
|Premier League contenders Liverpool ready to win titles – Henderson|
|Hopkins´ two TDs help Texans close in on AFC South title with win over Jets|
|Courtois: Simeone criticises Real Madrid to boost popularity|
|Mourinho in the dark over transfers as Pogba rumours swirl again|
|Mourinho marvels at Salah going nuclear|
|The lucky ones - Mourinho assesses Liverpool´s title charge|
15 de diciembre 2018
|Juventus boss Allegri turned his back on Ronaldo penalty|
|Dickerson hoping Barkley falls short of breaking his records|
|Bristol shock La Rochelle, Clermont win again|
|LeBron: Meeting Jordan for first time was godly|
|Ronaldo scores Juventus´ 5,000th Serie A goal|
|I was all over the place - Allen reaches Scottish Open final despite hangovers|
|Solari defends wasteful Asensio after slim Madrid win|
|Torino 0 Juventus 1: Ronaldo capitalises on Zaza woe|
|I do my work on the pitch – Icardi unconcerned by Inter contract discussions|
|Lyon defender Rafael set for three months out|
|Inter captain Icardi is the ´perfect´ striker – Spalletti|
|Fulham have to stick together, says Ranieri|
|Nuno hails ´very special´ Wolves achievement after third straight win|
|Stuttgart captain Gentner´s father dies at Hertha fixture|
|Valverde not desperate for new centre-back amid talk of Christensen loan|
|Toulouse and Saracens stay perfect in Champions Cup|
|Kovac lauds Bayern´s best performance of the season|
|Barcelona can get the best out of Coutinho and Dembele, claims Valverde|
|Borussia Dortmund 2 Werder Bremen 1: Alcacer and Reus guarantee top spot for mid-season break|
|Bristol City 2 Norwich City 2: Canaries knocked off their perch despite late equaliser|
|Atletico´s fighting spirit lauded by Simeone, Godin|
|Hodgson relieved to see Palace end Zaha curse|
|Real Madrid 1 Rayo Vallecano 0: Benzema secures steady response to CSKA loss|
|Fulham 0 West Ham 2: Snodgrass, Antonio punish profligate hosts|
|Warnock brands refereeing situation ´a disgrace´ after Watford defeat|
|Inter 1 Udinese 0: Icardi penalty gets lethargic Nerazzurri back on track|
|Wagner retains belief in survival bid despite Newcastle defeat|
|Griezmann feeling the strain after busy 2018|
|Pochettino ´so pleased´ as tired Tottenham scrap to Burnley win|
|Man Utd hand Smalling new contract|
|ES Tunis 0 Al Ain 3: Convincing victory books River Plate semi|
|Championship Review: Bamford fires Leeds to summit, Middlesbrough defeated by QPR|
|Curry reacts to Kings´ trolling with moon landing video|
|Wentz ruled out of Rams clash|
|Pochettino reaches 100 Premier League wins for Tottenham faster than Wenger for Arsenal|
|Real Valladolid 2 Atletico Madrid 3: Griezmann the hero on landmark appearance|
|Silva rues Richarlison´s missed chances at City|
|Gibson has no worries over Proteas batsmen|
|Wolves 2 Bournemouth 0: Jimenez and Cavaleiro score against toothless Cherries|
|Crystal Palace 1 Leicester City 0: Captain Milivojevic earns vital victory|
|Watford 3 Cardiff City 2: Hornets hang on despite late fightback|
|Tottenham 1 Burnley 0: Eriksen snatches victory at the death|
|Huddersfield Town 0 Newcastle United 1: Rondon strike settles scrap|
|Sabres suspend forward Berglund for failing to report to the team|
|Saunders thanks Fury for getting him ´back on the right track´|
|Hannover 0 Bayern Munich 4: Gnabry and Kimmich star in crushing win|
|I admire Sterling – Guardiola|
|City´s strength in depth makes it hard for me – Jesus|
|Jamieson holds slender lead in Malelane|
|Kashima Antlers 3 Guadalajara 2: Comeback win sets up Real Madrid semi-final|
|Hosszu claims fourth Hangzhou gold, Le Clos beaten by Santos|
|Manchester City 3 Everton 1: Jesus at the double as City go top|
|Parker defiant on low blow claims after ending 2018 ´with a bang´|
|Alisson: Liverpool must beat Manchester United|
|Mourinho´s brutal honesty praised by Karanka|
|Fielding inspired by Bellew after overcoming setbacks to face Canelo|
|Mourinho loves being a manager ´more than ever´|
|Khawaja unconcerned by poor start to India series|
|WATCH: Dellavedova dives into media table to rescue possession|
|Christmas form could transform Man United´s season - Rashford|
|Urgent changes needed at Manchester United – Ferdinand|
|Ishant confident as Kohli carries India into day three|