Croatia in its relatively short World Cup history has exceeded expectations of most by finishing third on its debut in 1998 and reached the final in Russia four years back. Coach Zlatko Dalic, on eve of its quarterfinals game against Brazil, believed the clash would be as tough as the final against France in Moscow – the only World Cup game Croatia has lost in a World Cup under him.
“I believe the match ahead of us would be most demanding and I can compare it to the final against France. I wish such a difficult match came later, Croatia is a small country, but we have tasted success in two World Cups, and we are one of those rare teams who have managed to come here [to the quarterfinals] and we would try to win,” he said.
Croatia has conceded twice from open play in the competition and negotiated a shootout to move past Japan in the round-of-16. In Russia, too, two of its knockout wins came through penalties, while the semifinals against England was settled by an extra-time goal from Mario Mandzukic.
Brazil coach Tite is aware that the Croatia would be much better drilled than earlier opponents. “Croatia has high technical skills in terms of midfielders, but our rhythm is not just about combination but also marking. We know how they work, and we will try to make them work to our advantage,” Tite said.
Left back Alex Sandro, still recovering from a hip injury, might not be available for selection, forcing Juventus right-back Danilo to fill in. “We hope Alex is fit to play tomorrow as injuries are the worst things to happen to a player. But I am fit and available and I can play in any position,” Danilo said.
He, too, cautioned about the quality in the Croatian midfield and said: “Croatia reached the finals in 2018, and they have excellent players like [Luka] Modric, [Mateo] Kovacic, [Ivan] Perisic, I have played with them, and they are used to big matches, and we need to concentrate and keep momentum for entire game to win it.”
Modric, at 37, is perhaps playing in his last World Cup and has occupied a much deeper role, building play from his own half compared to the advanced positions he used to occupy in Russia. “We shouldn’t be satisfied with what we have achieved so far. We know the greatest match of the World Cup is ahead of us. Brazil is always the favourite and they have demonstrated in this World Cup why they are one of the favourites,” said Modric who was substituted in the 100th minute against Japan.
With a fit again Neymar bringing in his bag of tricks – he has tried 12 take-ons, second-most for Brazil in this World Cup – and was instrumental in Brazil’s dominating first half performance against Korea Republic.
Tite condones celebration
The Brazilian players have drawn criticism for their dancing celebration, but Tite again reiterated that it’s a part of the Brazilian culture and the team will continue to play and celebrate with exuberance. “I won’t comment on people who don’t understand Brazil’s culture and history and I will give my heart and attention to people who understand it. Brazilian culture is to dance when we score and that’s not disrespectful and we will continue to do so,” the erudite coach said. “I am 61 and I work with players who are 21 and they can be my grandchildren. But I have a connection with them. And if I must dance to connect with them, then I will dance.”
Dalic, as well, agreed that too much has been made of the incident. “Brazilians have their way to celebrate, they are festive and united and demonstrate their character and tradition and that’s their right. I won’t like my players to celebrate like that, but I won’t like to comment about what others do.”
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