Real Madrid‘s Luka Modric and Barcelona‘s Ivan Rakitic were World Cup heroes with Croatia this past summer but will now face off on opposite sides in the first La Liga El Clasico of the 2018/19 season on Sunday.
Warm personal friends despite the red-hot Clasico rivalry, the midfield pair’s on-pitch relationship goes way back to September 2007. A 19-year-old Rakitic came on as a substitute in Croatia’s 2-0 European Championship win in Estonia, with a 22-year-old Modric having earlier provided an assist for his team’s second goal.
Fast forward to July’s World Cup final in Moscow, where the La Liga stars were partners in the centre of the park for a 75th time as Croatia were eventually beaten 4-2 by champions France in the Russia showpiece finale.
Now Modric, 33, and Rakitic, 30, will see each other again at the Camp Nou where they once again take part in world football’s most-watched domestic club fixture.
A first La Liga meeting came in September 2012, when then-Sevilla playmaker Rakitic took the corner from which teammate Piotr Trochowski headed in the winning goal against Real at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.
Modric was a half-time substitute in that game, having recently joined Los Blancos from Tottenham. Later that season Rakitic got two goals for Sevilla at the Bernabeu, although his team lost a thriller 7-3.
After Rakitic’s move to Barcelona in the summer of 2014, a first El Clasico meeting arrived at the Bernabeu that October, when Rakitic was a late substitute and Modric played 89 minutes as Madrid won 3-1.
Both midfielders have since become automatic starters for their clubs, and often play key roles in El Clasico match-ups. Modric provided the assist from which Sergio Ramos equalised in December 2016’s 1-1 clash at the Camp Nou, while the following April Rakitic hammered in a left footed drive from 25 yards as Barca won 3-2 at the Bernabeu.
In their first six seasons together in La Liga, the pair have met in eight Clasicos. The overall record has Rakitic on top with four Barca wins, two Madrid victories and two draws.
At senior international level, the pair have played 77 times together in total, including appearances at the European Championships in 2008, 2012 and 2016, and the 2014 and 2018 World Cup finals. A particularly special shared moment came in a World Cup qualifier in September 2016, when Modric was fouled for a penalty which Rakitic converted in a 1-1 draw against Turkey.
Both are vital members of the new golden generation of Croatians who reached a first-ever international tournament decider in Moscow last summer. The Barca man was clearly happy as his Real counterpart received personal awards including the Golden Ball for best performer at the World Cup and the Best FIFA Men’s Player for 2018.
Their most recent game together came during the last international break, when both played in Croatia’s 0-0 UEFA Nations League game at home to England, with the upcoming Clasico surely coming up in conversation at some point.
That shared history must be put to one side again for the game at the Camp Nou, when their personal battle in the middle of the park will go a long way to deciding whether Real or Barca come out on top.
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