Adaptable Rakitic ready to seize the moment for Croatia

Rayo Vallecano v Barcelona - Spanish Liga BBVA - Vallecas stadium, Madrid, Spain - 3/3/16 Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic celebrates after scoring a goal. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

ZAGREB (Reuters) - Once a winger and now a versatile playmaker with an eye for goal, Ivan Rakitic will be Croatia’s driving force at Euro 2016 after finally stepping out of Luka Modric’s shadow.

The 28-year-old, Swiss-born player has flourished since joining Barcelona in 2014, quickly asserting himself as a regular starter for the Catalan giants.

He won a rare treble of the Spanish League and Cup and the Champions League in his first season with the club, scoring the opening goal in a 3-1 win over Juventus in the final of Europe’s premier club competition.

This season Rakitic has proved a worthy replacement for Xavi as the man pulling the strings, blending seamlessly into Barcelona’s midfield behind the world’s deadliest three-pronged attack of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.

Rakitic’s superb close control, outstanding vision and immaculate passing are complemented by darting runs into the penalty area and the ability to unleash thundering long-range shots.

These traits have allowed the soft-spoken Croatian to quietly establish himself as the country’s pivotal player after years of playing second fiddle to Modric in midfield.

With the Real Madrid dynamo often deployed in a deeper role for both club and country these days, Rakitic has gravitated to a role that appears to suit him best.

Now Croatia’s Footballer of the Year has a new challenge on an even bigger stage where he is unlikely to disappoint.

Editing by Neil Robinson