SAINT PETERSBURG: Luka Modric comes from a "different planet" and is the best Croatian player in history, according to his team-mate and Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic.
Modric has been one of the stars of the World Cup so far, scoring twice in Croatia's opening three games and leading them through to the last 16 as winners of Group D.
They now face Denmark on Sunday for a place in the quarter-finals, where Spain, and Andres Iniesta, could lie in wait.
Rakitic knows Iniesta well, having played with him at Barca, and says he and Modric are each extraordinary talents.
"It seems like both of them are from different planets and they came to play football with us mortals here," Rakitic said on Friday.
"Both of them are among the best players ever in their positions. It has been a great honour to play with Andres in the last four years at Barcelona and with Luka for the last 11 years for Croatia.
"You try to enjoy it as much as you can, to learn from them. It's the best thing that can happen to any player. If I created a football team, I would have both of them in my team.
"Andres is one of my best friends and I see Luka as my big brother."
Former Croatia midfielder Robert Prosinecki, who earned 49 caps and is considered one of the country's finest players, has said Modric is their best ever.
"I would agree with him completely, not only that Luka is the best player, but he is a great person, a leader and we are following him," Rakitic said.
"I'm sure he can feel our confidence in him. It’' a great challenge to play against him in the Spanish league, to fight for the titles for Barcelona and Real and it's even better to play with him in the national team for our country."
Rakitic and Modric form one of the most formidable midfield pairings at the World Cup and after an impressive start, Croatia are being tipped to go far.
They have not gone past the group stage since 1998, when they made the semi-finals and striker Davor Suker finished top scorer.
"We know the team from 1998 was great, they were all our idols and they showed the way for each Croatian team afterwards," Rakitic said.
"But we need to forget about that and write our own story at this tournament. God willing we can achieve the same result, or maybe even more."
Croatia are strong favourites to see off Denmark, despite the threat posed by Christian Eriksen, but could face a sterner test against Spain in the quarter-finals, who must first overcome Russia.
"To be honest, I see Spain above everyone else. I think they are the main favorites of this tournament," Rakitic said.
"They had three difficult games in the group, the confidence they are playing with is one level above everyone else. I know them very well and wish them all the best."