Spain coach Luis Enrique is surprised his former superstar at Barcelona, Lionel Messi, was not included on the World Player of the Year shortlist.
The Argentine forward was left out of the final three for the first time in 12 years with Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, Juventus star Ronaldo and Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric the trio who are still in the running for the honor.
Asked in a news conference if Modric -- the star player of Spain's opponents, Croatia, on Tuesday in Elche -- deserved to win the award after contributing to Real Madrid's third consecutive Champions League triumph in the 2017-18 campaign and then helping his country reach the World Cup final, Luis Enrique answered: "When speaking of Croatia, I would talk about [Luka] Modric and [Ivan] Rakitic, the two deserve all the individual awards.
"The award for the best player in the world I would give it to Messi, he is a step above everyone else."
Luis Enrique coached Messi for three successful seasons at Barcelona before taking a one-year sabbatical. He then replaced Julen Lopetegui as full-time coach of the national team shortly after Spain, under interim coach Fernando Hierro, were eliminated in the second round of the World Cup by hosts Russia.
He had a winning start with Spain when they beat England 2-1 on Saturday at Wembley and Tuesday's encounter at a sold-out Martin Valero stadium will mark Croatia's debut at the UEFA Nations League.
"We have a disadvantage in that we played on Saturday but the advantage is that we are playing at home and we will get a lot of support," Luis Enrique said. "I expected Croatia to do well at the World Cup. They had high-class players. They defend and attack as a team regardless of the individual talent they have in midfield.
"I hope we can give an improved image tomorrow and limit Croatia."
Luis Enrique praised David De Gea, who made five saves in Saturday's game.
The Manchester United No. 1 came under scrutiny after his performance at the World Cup but was chosen to start against England ahead of Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga.
"In David's case, he is mature, very experienced for his age," Luis Enrique said. "He knows what it is to be a professional player, to get criticism and receive praise. We are all ready for that and so is David."
Luis Enrique admitted he made a mistake by not initially calling up Iago Aspas against England and Croatia.
Celta Vigo striker Aspas replaced Diego Costa in the squad after the Atletico Madrid forward was released for personal reasons.
Aspas impressed in the win over England and is poised to start again against Croatia.
"You have an idea of what you expect from someone and after the training session he shows you that he's something else," Luis Enrique said.
"I recognise my error. I thought he had a good game, I saw him train well. I'm open to change. The team comes before anything else."