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Brazil thrashed South Korea 4-1 in the round of 16 to reach the quarter-finals
Croatia squeezed past Japan on penalties to extend their stay at World Cup 2022
Croatia are a competitive team but this will surely be a bridge too far for the Vatreni
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It was impossible not to be impressed by Brazil’s display in the round of 16. Facing a South Korean side that would have been feeling quietly confident after their last-gasp qualification for the knockout phase, Tite’s team blew their opponents away with a stunning first-half performance.
The win was in effect wrapped up after just 13 minutes. That was when Neymar coolly converted a penalty, doubling Brazil’s lead after Vinicius Junior had opened the scoring with a tidy finish after a burst down the right from Raphinha.
The Selecao did not take their foot off the gas before the interval. A glorious passing exchange led to Richarlison’s goal just before the half-hour mark, before Lucas Paqueta got in on the act after yet more brilliant Brazilian play. South Korea, one of the 16 best teams on the planet based on the results of World Cup 2022, just could not live with them.
Brazil continually sliced through South Korea in transition. They did not press high up the pitch but instead waited in midfield, where they pounced on loose balls and immediately went on the attack.
Their technical quality at high speed was a sight to behold. On that kind of form, few defenses will be able to live with Brazil. That is one of the reasons they remain the favorites to win the tournament with the best online sportsbooks.
Another is their excellent defensive record. Brazil did not keep a clean sheet against South Korea, but the goal they conceded came when the game was over as a contest. In the first half, the Taeguk Warriors barely laid a glove on the five-time champions, who are looking good in their quest to add a sixth star to their famous yellow jerseys this winter.
For a nation of fewer than four million people, Croatia performs remarkably well in the world’s most popular sport. Runners-up in Russia four years ago, the Vatreni qualified for the Nations League Finals this year by topping a group ahead of Denmark, France, and Austria.
They are now one of the last eight teams standing in Qatar - and by far the smallest country of those that remain.
In truth, though, Croatia’s showings so far have demonstrated they are not quite the force they were in 2018. They only finished second in their group and could easily have been eliminated before the knockout phase: had Belgium been more clinical with the many chances they created on matchday three, they would have advanced ahead of Zlatko Dalic’s side.
A last-16 tie with Japan on Monday went all the way to penalties, where Croatia held their nerve as their opponents collapsed under the pressure. At World Cup 2018, they did not win a single knockout tie in 90 minutes. This is a side with the experience of going the distance and coming out on top.
If Croatia have regressed slightly since the 20th edition of this tournament, that is completely understandable for a nation of their size. And they still have plenty going for them, not least a hugely gifted midfield trio of Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, and Mateo Kovacic, and the evergreen Ivan Perisic, a clutch player who always rises to the occasion.
Croatia can be immensely proud of their efforts in Qatar, even if their journey ends on Friday. They begin this match as underdogs, but a team as competitive and wholehearted as they can never be written off.
Croatia are at their best when they are allowed to get into a passing rhythm. They are yet to score the first goal in any of their matches in Qatar, which illustrates the fact they can be slow starters. Dalic’s side prefer a slower tempo, which is better suited to their patient possession play.
Brazil are perhaps the worst possible opponents for them. The Selecao are happy to take their time when the situation calls for it. But as their blitzing of South Korea showed, they are at their electric best when they are attacking at speed.
Having played more than two hours of soccer just a few days ago, Croatia will struggle to cope with the Brazilians’ intensity. Even if things are not going to plan for Tite’s team, he has the option to bring the likes of Gabriel Martinelli, Antony, and Pedro off the bench. Understandably, Croatia do not have the same strength in depth.
Dalic is clearly not satisfied with any of his options at center-forward. He tried three different players in that role against Japan, and none of them was especially convincing.
Croatia have failed to score in half of their matches so far, so we fancy Brazil to register their third clean sheet of the World Cup. Back a win to nil for the Selecao.
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Teams: Croatia vs Brazil
Location: Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar
Time: Friday, 9 December 2022, 10:00 AM EST
How to Watch: Fox Sports, Telemundo, fuboTV
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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