Luka Modric insists his midfield battle with Christian Eriksen will be just a sub-plot when Croatia and Denmark clash for a place in the World Cup quarter-finals.
The Tottenham playmakers past and present hold down important roles for their national sides, with Modric outstanding for Croatia so far at Russia 2018 and Eriksen Denmark’s main attacking threat.
Given their high profiles, plenty of focus has fallen on how they will get on in Nizhny Novgorod, with their rivalry widely portrayed as being crucial to how Sunday’s game will unfold.
Asked about Eriksen, Modric said: “I don’t like to compare players, particularly to compare others with myself.
“What I can say about Eriksen is he’s a fantastic player, a world-class player. He’s played a fantastic season at Tottenham. He’s the most important player for Denmark.
“What will decide the game will be how the teams perform as teams. No individual can do it on their own. Individuals can dictate certain incidents but the most important thing is how we perform as a team on the pitch.”
Modric added: “Of course, this is an important game for us.
“We’ve played fantastically in the group stage, we must be proud of that, but this new game makes us forget all that went before and try to translate what we’ve already done to Sunday’s game.”
Croatia have not gone past the World Cup group stage since 1998, when they were semi-finalists in France and only edged out by the hosts.
“It will be a stern test for us,” Modric said. “It is high time this generation cleared this obstacle.
“I expect us to be capable of doing that.”
Coach Zlatko Dalic was asked about the prospect of Modric, who has played his club football for Real Madrid since 2012, going on to be voted player of the tournament.
“I would be the happiest man on Earth because it would mean Croatia have done something significant,” Dalic said, “so God willing it will be so.”
Denmark manager Age Hareide is aware that his side can become just the second side in Danish history to make the last eight of the tournament.
They are in fine form, too, riding an 18-game unbeaten wave.
However, some critics have accused them of being too defensive-minded, and the manager knows they need to offer new solutions against Croatia.
“I think we are writing Danish history anyway,” he said at his pre-match press conference.
“But I am not thinking so much about that. I am thinking of our team being able to play in different ways.
“We have many good players, but we have a team which is what has taken us so far. We know Croatia have a good team, skilful players, but you will see a different Denmark from what you have seen so far.
“The type of game we will play will be different, we need to play differently to progress.”
Hareide was joined at the press conference by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, whose family ties with Denmark great Peter have been well documented.
That did not stop one reporter trying again, even though he admitted mid-question that he had seen a social media post from Schmeichel Jnr in which he expressed his frustration about the comparisons.
“It’s not annoying, I just expect more from you guys!” he said.
“It’s inevitable coming to a World Cup, new media who haven’t spoke to me before. The Danish guys know what the response will be. I guess it’s part of life.”