The Story So Far
It hasn’t been particularly pretty, but Croatia are into another World Cup quarter-final.
Zlatko Dalić’s side squeezed through to the knockout stage with a tense 0-0 draw against Belgium in the final group game. It was their second goalless stalemate after holding fellow quarter-finalists Morocco in their opening match. In between those two results came their best performance of the tournament in a 4-1 destruction of Canada, but sparkling attacking football has been a rarity from the Croats. They have made up for that with plenty of defensive grit and a strong overall spirit.
The last 16 meeting with a buoyant Japan side proved to be Croatia’s biggest test yet. The Samurai Blue were full of belief having already beaten both Germany and Spain in the group stage and took a deserved lead just before half-time. The Vatreni showed terrific resilience to fight back in the second half and looked the most likely winners after Ivan Perisic’s equaliser. Experience and nous at this level saw them navigate extra-time before eventually showing much cooler heads in the penalty shootout.
The Star So Far
As picked out previously on FTN as the “One to Watch”, Joško Gvardiol has been an absolute rock at the back for Croatia and one of the best defenders in the tournament full stop. The 20-year-old has been sporting a face mask in Qatar, which has only made an already imposing figure look even more intimidating to opposition attackers. Underneath lies a broken nose and black eyes, battle scars from a previous collision at his club RB Leipzig which epitomises his warrior-like style and mentality on the pitch. He will be pivotal for Croatia if they are to have any chance of stopping Brazil’s irresistible attack.
An honourable mention goes to Perisic who became Croatia’s all-time leading goalscorer at international tournaments with his excellent header against Japan. The veteran has been his country’s most effective attacking player with a goal and two assists. He may have to do a lot more defensive work in the quarter-final.
How Croatia Can Win
Despite the aforementioned defence and attack, Croatia might be able to find joy in the midfield battle. Brazil line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Casimero and Lucas Paqueta as the double-pivot, but the latter of the two is hardly a defensive player and is often joining attacks. The excellent trio of Marcelo Brozovic, Luca Modric and Mateo Kovacic could create an overload against the often-isolated Casimero and cause real problems with their passing ability and creativity. Croatia like to control possession and that will be difficult against opposition as good as the Brazilians, but they can be successful if those three can find a rhythm in the middle of the park.
Perisic will have an important role to play both offensively and defensively. He has started most games of the left side of Croatia’s front-three and might fancy his chances against Éder Militão, who is being used as a makeshift right-back by the Brazilians. However, Perisic will also need to call upon all his experience playing as a wingback to help out defensively.
After two goalless draws from four games, it seems glaringly obvious where the problem lies and it was identified on FTN before the tournament. Croatia still haven’t properly replaced the man who sits on their bench as an assistant coach, Mario Mandzukic. A traditional Number 9 who can finish chances. Andrej Kramarić struck twice against Canada but hasn’t really looked like scoring in any of the tougher games and has been used as a wide player. If Croatia are to overcome Brazil in regulation time, they are going to have to be clinical when they get they get a chance. Otherwise, it might need to be another extra-time and penalties job.
The Story So Far
As expected, it’s been fairly comfortable for the pre-tournament favourites getting to this stage. Serbia and Switzerland were able to frustrate them for periods before eventually being dazzled by the Brazilian magic. Cameroon were able to gain a shock victory over the 5-time champions but Tite had made ten changes for the final group game, having already secured top spot.
South Korea were slightly surprising opponents in the last 16, having finished ahead of Uruguay and Ghana in their group. The tactics employed by the Taegeuk Warriors were also unexpected as they decided to take Brazil on and were dealt a ruthless lesson in a one-sided first half. Brazil produced some of the best football in the entire tournament to reach the quarter-finals.
The Star So Far
In a squad full of stars, Richarlison has traditionally been one of the less-heralded names. Many questioned whether he was the right man to follow in the footsteps of legendary figures like Pele and Ronaldo as Brazil’s main striker. There were even calls for Arsenal’s in-form Gabriel Jesus to replace him in the starting line-up, but the Spurs man has stepped up to the plate in a big way. He has struck three times in Qatar with a couple of strong contenders for Goal of the Tournament already. Even more responsibility was placed on his shoulders when star player Neymar missed the last two group games with injury and the pressure is on again now that Jesus has been ruled out of the tournament. Richarlison seems to take it all in his stride and always relishes a challenge.
How Brazil Can Win
The simple answer would be by being Brazil. If they can reproduce some of the football they’ve played so far in the tournament, then there aren’t many teams that will be able to live with them.
The fact that Neymar returned against South Korea and showed no ill-effects of his ankle injury is a huge boost for the Seleção. He will be expected to perform at the business end of the tournament.
The wide areas will likely be a focal point of Brazil’s attack again, especially against Croatia’s full-backs, who haven’t looked at all convincing defensively. The dangerous Vinícius Júnior and Raphina will be salivating at the prospect of facing them.
Not many. Even in the centre of midfield where Casimero is the only real defensive player, he’s proved on many big occasions that he can do the job on his own. Although, it will be a lot tougher against his former Real Madric team-mate Luka Modric who he has not often had to come up against.
Perhaps a lack of genuine competition so far could hurt Brazil. Croatia are a real team of experience and pedigree in international tournaments so this will be their first challenge of that calibre.
Croatia 0-2 Brazil
Croatia might well be able to frustrate the favourites for long periods and even have good spells on the ball themselves - but Brazil will just be too youthful, vibrant and dynamic for Dalić’s ageing side.
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