The most successful national team in the history of football tries to regain the Holy Grail. There are three obstacles between the Selecao and the trophy. None of them shall be easy. And it all starts with Croatia vs Brazil in the World Cup quarter-finals.
If Brazil is the most fear-inducing superpower in football, Croatia is an emerging one, one of the most consistently dominant national teams in Europe for the past 30 years, which is now at the peak of its prowess. This Croatia vs Brazil tie will be nothing short of an impressive football battle. A magnificent opening act of the World Cup quarter-finals.
Croatia vs Brazil
Date: 9 December 2022
Time: 15:00 (GMT)
Venue: Education City Stadium (Al Rayyan)
Can anyone be surprised by Croatia’s presence in the quarter-finals? We are talking about one of the best teams in world football for the past few years and yet, there are still people underestimating the Croatians.
We are used to discussing Belgium’s Golden Generation. What about the Croatians then? Sure, the 1998 squad might have had more individual talent, with the likes of Suker, Boban, Prosinecki, Asanovic, Bilic, Tudor, and Stanic leading the line. And they achieved a lot. The moment they became an independent FIFA member, they won 3rd place in the 1998 World Cup.
But this Croatia, the one led by Luka Modric, arguably the most complete playmaker the world has seen since the days of the old-school “Number 10’s” of football, is the most successful team in the young modern history of Croatia.
After reaching the final of the 2018 World Cup, many critics believed that this would be the final show put together by this group. We ourselves are guilty of calling Croatia an ageing team. Out of the three pillars of the 2018 success story, Rakitic has since retired from international football, Perisic is nearly 34 years old, and the Maestro himself, Luka Modric, just turned 37.
But 2022 has been surrealistically good for Croatian football fans. This past summer, the team won its Nations League Group (against France, Denmark, and Austria) and qualified for the competition’s finals for the first time. Followed by a great World Cup campaign. The reason is simple. It is not just the two stars of the team, Modric and Perisic. There is young talent added to the pool all the time. Borna Sosa is 24, Josko Gvardiol is 20, Lovro Majer is 24, Nikola Vlasic is 25. Soon we will be introduced to more of that: 19-year-old Roko Simic of Red Bull Salzburg, 18-year-old Marko Brkljaca of Dinamo Zagreb, and 17-year-old Lovro Zvonarek of Bayern Munich.
For now, the Vatreni are focused on the World Cup quarter-finals. They are here for the third time. The first time they got there, they won bronze. The second time around, they won silver. Do you believe in omens?
This Croatia vs Brazil match signifies a special day for Luka Modric, who will become the 26th player in world football to play 160 games for his country.
When we are discussing the World Cup, Brazil has to be a focal point. The team that has never missed a single tournament, the land where football is so much more than just a game, the national side that has won the trophy more times than anyone else. Sweden 1958, Chile 1962, Mexico 1970, USA 2002, Japan and South Korea 2002. Five World Championships to Brazil’s name. Five pictures of Brazilian captains lifting the trophy. Hilderaldo Bellini, Mauro Ramos, Carlos Alberto, Carlos Dunga, and Cafu wait for the image of Thiago Silva lifting the cup to be placed next to theirs.
It has been 20 years since Brazil won the biggest trophy in World football. Three Copa America victories in the process, while unarguably great, cannot satisfy a nation that might love its national side unconditionally, but also has great expectations.
Brazil might actually have the best team it ever had, in terms of overall quality. It is a bold statement, but one that can be backed by facts. The 1970 team had five “number 10’s” in the starting lineup (Gerson, Jairzinho, Tostao, Rivellino, and Pele), but a rather uninspiring defence. The 2002 team had the best offensive line of the decade and maybe of all time (Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and Ronaldinho), two stellar wing-backs (Cafu and Robert Carlos), while the centre of defence and the goalkeeper were good but not great. Probably the most complete Brazil until today was the one of 1982, a team that didn’t ever reach the semi-finals. Leandro, Oscar, Luizinho, Junior, Cerezo, Falcao, Zico, Socrates, and Eder were all amazing. The same cannot be said, though, for the starting goalkeeper, Peres, and the starting striker, Serginho.
This season’s Brazil has no black hole. Its second lineup could compete for the World Cup. Its backup goalkeeper is among the top-3 in the World. Fabinho, Fred, Antony and Vinicius cannot find a spot in the Starting XI. Some could argue that the weak spot is the centre forward, but Richarlison is doing great and it his backup (when he was healthy) was Gabriel Jesus, one of the top scorers in the Premier League this season.
Brazil’s leader, Neymar, is on the verge of breaking two huge records before even turning 31. If he plays all three possible games in this World Cup (provided his team qualifies from this Croatia vs Brazil tie) he will surpass Roberto Carlos as Brazil’s third all-time in terms of international caps. And if he scores one more goal, he will reach Pele’s record of 77 international goals for Brazil.
Speaking of Pele, the Brazilian legend, aged 82, is fighting for his life and the team dedicates every victory to him, asking him to stay around to see them win the trophy he won thrice.
How did we get to a Croatia vs Brazil quarter-final? Croatia won second place in Group F, beating Canada 4-1 and securing goalless draws against Morocco and Belgium. In the Round of 16, Croatia beat Japan in the penalty shootout. Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was the hero of the day, saving three penalties.
Brazil topped Group F. After beating Serbia 2-0 and Switzerland 1-0, the Brazilians lost to Cameroon 1-0. In the Round of 16, the Selecao had a blast against South Korea, coming up victorious 4-1.
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We shouldn’t see many changes in the Croatia Starting XI, in comparison to the Japan game. Valuable left-back Borna Sosa received from an illness and should return to the lineup, replacing Borna Barisic. The rest of the team will remain unchanged. The only question regards the starting striker position. Petkovic, Budimir, and Livaja have all been rather quiet when given the chance to play, so Dalic will have to depend on what he sees in the final practice sessions to make his decision.
Gabriel Jesus will miss the next few months due to injury, but the good news for Tite is that Neymar is good and going. He was pivotal in the 4-1 victory over South Korea, where he scored his 76th international goal.
This is not yet the case with Alex Sandro. He has not yet fully recovered from his injury and missed the Round of 16 game. He is expected to be ready for Croatia vs Brazil, even if he has to be replaced 60 or 70 minutes in. This would be great news for Tite, as Alex Telles, the other left-back on the roster, has been ruled out for the remainder of the World Cup.
A major question is who will pair Casemiro in midfield. Lucas Paqueta has shined in the tournament, but there is a chance Brazil goes with a more defence-oriented plan, to deal with the talented Croatian midfield line. In that case, Fred might be given the nod to start.
Croatia (4-3-3): Livakovic; Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa; Brozovic, Modric, Kovacic; Kramaric, Livaja, Perisic
Brazil (4-2-3-1): Alisson; Eder Militao, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Alex Sandro; Casemiro, Fred; Raphinha, Neymar, Vinicius; Richarlison
Croatia has been one of the most disciplined teams in this World Cup but there is a certain scoring problem. There is no player on the roster that can put the ball in the net with ease. Brazil is a complete team from position 1 to position 11. They might struggle or they might ease past Croatia, but one way or another they will be in the semi-finals.
Croatia vs Brazil Pick: Brazil to Win & Under 3.5 Goals @1.98
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