Brazil will endeavour to keep their hopes of lifting a record-extending sixth world title alive when they lock horns with Croatia in the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup at Education City Stadium on Friday.
The Selecao sent out a statement to the rest of the tournament when they breezed past South Korea in the last 16, while the Checkered Ones were pushed all the way by Japan before edging through on penalties.
For the second successive World Cup and for the third time in their history, Croatia will be competing in the quarter-finals on the biggest international stage after beating Japan 3-1 on penalties in the last 16 on Monday.
After Ivan Perisic cancelled out a first-half strike from Daizen Maeda, the two nations were forced into extra time and then penalties, but the Checkered Ones prevailed in the shootout with goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saving three of Japan’s four spot kicks to help Zlatko Dalic’s side book their place in the last eight.
Croatia are no strangers to drama at the highest level of international football, as they have been taken to extra time in seven of their last eight knockout matches at major tournaments since finishing third at their first World Cup finals back in 1998.
Four of Croatia’s last five knockout matches at the World Cup have gone to extra time and three of which have seen the Checkered Ones triumph on penalties – a 4-2 defeat to France in the 2018 final is the only time during this run that a knockout game involving Croatia was decided in 90 minutes.
Dalic and co are unbeaten in their last 10 internationals and have lost only one of their last 20 games across all competitions since Euro 2020, but this impressive run is set to be tested by a high-flying Brazil outfit who head into Friday’s contest off the back of their best performance at this year’s tournament in Qatar against South Korea.
The Brazilian flair and swagger that football fans across the globe are accustomed to when watching the five-time world champions was on show on Monday, as Tite’s side sambaed their way into the quarter-finals courtesy of a 4-1 victory over South Korea in the last 16.
The Selecao raced into a four-goal lead within the first 36 minutes with Vinicius Junior, Neymar, Richarlison and Lucas Paqueta all on the scoresheet, before a stunning consolation strike from Paik Seung-ho gave the South Korean supporters something to cheer in the final 15 minutes.
Richarlison had already scored a goal-of-the-tournament contender with an acrobatic effort in the group stage, but he now has another to his name after finishing off an outrageously skilful team goal that epitomises Brazilian football and proves why Tite’s side have the credentials to go all the way in Qatar.
Brazil are oozing confidence at present and they are now preparing for their seventh successive World Cup quarter-final, but they will be wary of their recent record at this stage of the competition. The Selecao have been knocked out at the quarter-final stage in three of the last four World Cups, losing to European trio France, Netherlands and Belgium in 2006, 2010 and 2018 respectively.
Since beating Germany 2-0 in the 2002 World Cup final, Brazil have lost each of their last five knockout matches against European nations in the competition. However, the Selecao have never lost in four previous meetings with Croatia, while the 1-0 group-stage loss to Cameroon last week is their only defeat in their last 19 internationals which bodes well heading into Friday’s clash.
Croatia duo Borna Sosa and Josip Stanisic both missed the win over Japan due to illness and a muscle injury respectively; the former should be available to return and could replace Borna Barisic at left-back, while the latter remains doubtful and will be assessed ahead of kickoff.
Dalic is unlikely to make too many changes to his starting lineup, with midfield maestros Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic all expected to retain their places on Friday – both Modric and Kovacic are just one booking away from suspension along with Barisic and Dejan Lovren.
Indeed, Lovren is set to continue his partnership in defence alongside sought-after starlet Josko Gvardiol, while Marko Livaja and Ante Budimir will be battling to displace Bruno Petkovic as the central striker. Perisic and Andrej Kramaric, meanwhile, are poised to start again on the flanks.
As for Brazil, they will be without Gabriel Jesus and Alex Telles, who are ruled out for the rest of the World Cup with knee injuries, while Alex Sandro is doubtful with a hip problem.
The 31-year-old has been training alone with the team’s physical trainer after missing the last two matches, and if he is not deemed fit to start, Juventus teammate Danilo will likely continue at left-back, joining Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Eder Militao in the back four.
Militao is one of three Selecao stars along with Fred and Bruno Guimaraes who are only one yellow card away from missing a potential semi-final bout, and the latter two are expected to begin again on the substitutes’ bench, with Casemiro and Paqueta preferred by Tite to start in centre-midfield.
Star attacker Neymar recovered from an ankle injury to start and score against South Korea, and he is poised to continue in an advanced role in between wingers Raphinha and Vinicius Junior, while Richarlison is set to lead the line up front.
Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa; Kovacic, Brozovic, Modric; Kramaric, Petkovic, Perisic
Brazil possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Militao, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Danilo; Casemiro, Paqueta; Raphinha, Neymar, Vinicius Jr; Richarlison