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Coutinho, Messi too much for shorthanded Spurs

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  • Coutinho strikes early
  • Rakitic makes it 2-0 with worldie
  • Messi bags brace
  • Kane, Lamela score for Spurs

Philippe Coutinho, Ivan Rakitic, and Lionel Messi all scored wonderful goals as Barcelona outclassed injury-hit Tottenham Hotspur 4-2 at Wembley Stadium in UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday.

Messi scored a second goal for Barca, bagging a 90th minute point-blank finish.

Harry Kane and Erik Lamela scored for Spurs, who were without Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, and Jan Vertonghen.

Barca goes to six points through two matches, while Spurs have zero.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

It took less than a minute-and-a-half for Barca to welcome Hugo Lloris back to the Spurs side, with the goalkeeper’s aggressive pursuit of Jordi Alba allowing the left back to find Coutinho with a cutback. The ex-Liverpool man scored from 18 yards.

Harry Kane forced Marc Andre ter Stegen into a 25th minute save when Spurs got their first strong effort on target.

But Rakitic put the game firmly in Barcelona’s camp with an exquisite piece of technique. Lionel Messi’s cross was chested down to Coutinho, whose blocked shot had the Brazilian scrambling to pass it back atop the 18. Rakitic leapt to volley the ball off the near post and into the goal. Beautiful.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Spurs would’ve been grateful to get to the dressing room at half, and Messi underscored that by hitting the post for a second time once action resumed at Wembley.

Kane cooked Nelson Semedo with a 52nd minute cutback before curling around Ter Stegen to make it 2-1.

The enthusiasm was short-lived, because Messi did not hit the post with his next effort. The living Argentine legend started and finished a pretty play in the 56th minute, using a Luis Suarez dummy to line up a cute finish across goal.

It was 3-2 when Erik Lamela’s left-footed strike took a turn off Clement Lenglet to fool a diving Ter Stegen.

VIDEO: Barcelona’s Rakitic scores incredible volley

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Ivan Rakitic may never strike a volley sweeter than this again.

Scratch that. It is quite possible that nobody will ever strike a volley as sweetly as this ever again.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

The Croatian midfielder smashed home a stunning effort off the post to put Barcelona 2-0 up at Wembley against Tottenham on Wednesday. The technique was amazing with both feet off the ground as he hit it.

Take a look at the video below to see Rakitic score one of the most memorable volleys in recent history. What a strike.

Top three battles in 2018 World Cup Final

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The World Cup Final is Sunday, and there are three areas which could tip the scales in favor of a Croatian upset or an expected French title.

[ MORE: PST’s World Cup roundtable ]

Kante and Pogba vs. Modric, Rakitic, Brozovic

Yes, Antoine Griezmann is a midfielder, but he’s a fourth forward if N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba are at their very best. Croatia’s midfield triangle has been responsible for much of its World Cup success, and will need to keep that up if it hopes to collect an upset.

Mandzukic renews acquaintances with La Liga CBs…

Two goals in the Champions League semifinals against Real Madrid, one the year before in the final, and an assist in that UCL run-up versus Barcelona.

So, yes, Real’s Raphael Varane and Barca’s Samuel Umtiti have tangled with him a time or two. And the big Croatian striker Mandzukic really seems to be rounding into form.

…And Giroud versus Lovren and Co.

Olivier Giroud has yet to score in the tournament, but sleeping on his industrious performance up top is a mistake. Dejan Lovren has branded himself “one of the best defenders in the world” based on this tournament and his Champions League run with Liverpool.

If France needs to whip crosses toward Giroud, we’d expect things could look a bit like the below highlight reel. Check around the 1:00 mark of this video:

Why they’ll win the World Cup: Croatia

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First of all, relax — This is part of a four-post series making the case for each of four World Cup semifinalists in their respective bids to win the 2018 edition of the tournament.

That said, let’s talk about why Croatia will be lifting the World Cup trophy on July 15 in Moscow.

[ RECAP: Croatia outlasts Russia ]

Croatia’s path to the World Cup semifinals has seen two rounds of decent fortune after a group stage of dominance.

Vatreni could’ve knocked Denmark out with a late penalty kick before persevering from the spot, and Russia was a very difficult combatant in its home World Cup, but the team that clobbered Nigeria and Argentina before wearing down Iceland has had to show a bit more mettle in the knockout rounds despite facing two less-than-powerful opponents.

Now comes England, which picked up an impressive win against Sweden but has yet to knockoff a marquee opponent. Colombia was without James Rodriguez, Sweden had a good tournament but missed its retired superstar in LA, and both Tunisia and Panama weren’t exactly great shakes.

So it’s reasonable to wonder whether France or Belgium is a better final opponent for Vatreni. Like France, one of the best cases for a Croatian title comes in the form of a prolific striker who is yet to deliver much: Croatia has 10 goals at the tournament but only one belongs to Mario Mandzukic.

And then there’s the trio of players at the back end of their career primes: Ivan Perisic (29), Ivan Rakitic (30), and Luka Modric (32). The latter has looked like a man with a body 10 years his junior and a wisdom 20 his senior, and the trio is performing with the tenacity manager Zlatko Dalić showed at defensive mid during his well-traveled playing career.

Throw in fiery goalkeeper Danijel Subasic and a “greater than the sum of its parts” defensive corps, and Croatia can get the job done twice in the next week.

Modric “from another planet, comes here to play with mortals”

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Luka Modric comes “from a different planet … to play football with us mortals here,” says Ivan Rakitic, who alongside his El Clasico rival has helped Croatia to the round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: 2018 World Cup Best XI (so far) ]

Rakitic has been fortunate enough to play alongside Modric for the national team the last 11 years, as well as the legendary and transcendent Andres Iniesta since moving to Barcelona in the summer of 2014. A student of the game and a willing product of his environment, Rakitic has soaked up every last bit of knowledge and makes little effort to contain his admiration for his teammates and friends — quotes from the AP:

“It seems like both of them are from a different planet and they came to play football with us mortals here. Both of them are among the best players ever in their positions.

“If I created a football team, I would have both of them in my team. I can thank God to have the opportunity to play with both of them.”

[ MORE: Predicting the round of 16 ]

Ahead of Sunday’s round-of-16 clash with Denmark, Rakitic even went so far as to dub Modric the best-ever Croatian footballer:

“If Robert Prosinecki said that, it has to be true because nobody knows about football more than Prosinecki. And I would agree with him completely. Not only that Luka is the best player ever, but he is a great person, a leader and we are following him.”

With Modric and Rakitic leading the way, controlling and dictating anything and everything from the center of midfield, Croatia were arguably the most impressive side during the group stage and have positioned themselves — thanks to some favorable alignment on their half of the knockout bracket — for a potential run to the last four (or two) in Russia.