MOSCOW (AP) — The Latest on Friday at the World Cup (all times local):
Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic says teammate Luka Modric plays football “from a different planet” and is the best to have ever played for their national team.
Rakitic grew up idolizing Croatia midfield great Robert Prosinecki but says Modric, now a four-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid and Croatia’s captain at the World Cup, is at the next level.
Rakitic says “not only is Luka the best player ever (for Croatia), but he is a great person, a leader and we are following him.”
Croatia plays Denmark in the last 16 at Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday.
With many of Croatia’s so-called golden generation into their 30s, including Modric and Rakitic, every game now is potentially their last together at a major tournament.
Rakitic says “if we at the end manage to lift this trophy, we go into international retirement happy.”
Japan soccer fans debated their team’s controversial tactics at the World Cup, with most accepting them as an inevitable outcome of the tournament’s tiebreaking format.
Japan lost to Poland 1-0 in their final group game on Thursday in Russia. Despite the loss, Japan advanced to a round-of-16 match against Belgium because it received fewer yellow cards than Senegal, which lost to Colombia by the same score at the same time.
Once Colombia scored in Samara, Japan knew it had done enough to advance even though it was losing late in its match. The Japanese players slowed play down to almost nothing, softly passing the ball back and forth in little triangles in their own end to waste time.
Poland, happy to get a victory after two losses, did little to pressure Japan’s players.
Japanese fans celebrated the team advancing, and former players and soccer commentators supported Japan coach Akira Nishino.
“It was a difficult decision by Nishino but the correct one,” said soccer commentator and former player Tetsuo Nakanishi.
Company employee Makoto Uchida said: “It wasn’t pretty near the end, but the team did what it had to do. I’m happy we are going to the next round.”