Japan vs Croatia
Croatia have performed wonders to punch above their weight for so long in international football and are determined to keep their reputation going against Japan in their last-16 match at the World Cup on Monday, coach Zlatko Dalic said.
“The population of Croatia is 4 million and the results we have achieved on the world stage are miraculous,” said Dalic, whose nation were runners-up at the last World Cup and are unbeaten in three games in Qatar.
“We are continually present in tournaments and World Cups, and that itself is a great success. We have become a world football force.”
The 12th-ranked Croatians are favourites to beat 24th-ranked Japan, but the Samurai Blue astounded expectations to defeat two powerhouses and former World Cup winners, Spain and Germany, at the group stage in comebacks.
“They will apply the Samurai warrior philosophy. So will we. If we want to go further, we must apply that same attitude, do our best and never underestimate anyone,” Dalic told reporters, noting Japan’s scant possession statistics in both those wins.
“Japan have the least ball possession in the world, but they make great transition. This is the most perseverant, persistent opponent. They simply do not give up. We have a similar mentality, Japan and Croatia. We stand on equal ground.”
AGAINST THE ODDS
The coach said Croatia would fight to match or even better their performance in Russia.
“Everyone has their right to dream. In 2018, we demonstrated that dreams can come true,” he said. “In the last 20 years, Croatia have played magnificent matches. If you look at the countries in the round of 16, we are the country with the smallest population. We are here against the odds.”
Dalic singled out Croatia’s captain Luka Modric, who has again played outstandingly despite being in the twilight of his career at 37.
“I cannot compliment him enough on his performance. This will not be the last tournament he will play for Croatia. His professionalism, his good shape, his training, his working on self-improvement is unprecedented,” he said.
“We will need Luka for some time more in the future.”
Defender Borna Sosa faces fitness checks later on Sunday and remains a doubt for the Japan game.
“If he’s not up to the challenge tomorrow, we won’t take any risks. We need fully prepared players,” Dalic said.
Young defender Josko Gvardiol said he knew Japan’s spirit well from their presence in the Bundesliga where he plays.
“I know the Japanese players very well,” he added.
“They represent quite a danger. They are a fighting team. They fight to the very end. They do not surrender.”
Brazil vs South Korea
Brazil making it to the knockout rounds of a World Cup is no surprise. A loss to Cameroon in its last group game didn’t stop the Selecao from making it past the group stage for the ninth consecutive edition.
The Brazilian journalists, however, are not too pleased with Tite’s “lack of respect for the tournament and other teams” in fielding nine new starters in that game.
That fringe Brazil side created many chances, but the goal was missing as those auditioning for a starting role gave a masterclass in wastefulness. Brazil doctor Rodrigo Lasmar has worked the hardest in Qatar as the team continues to worry about fitness of Neymar. The good doctor, however, has indicated that Neymar might be fit to play, recovering well enough from the ankle injury that he had suffered in the first game. Tite, was more forthcoming, vehemently saying “yes” when asked if Neymar will play during his pre-match press conference.
However, the Brazilians will miss Gabriel Jesus and Alex Telles as both men are out of the tournament with knee problems. While Richarlison, already the scorer of a wonder goal, will be leading the attack, Telles’ withdrawal and the recurrent hip problem of Alex Sandro might cause a problem for Tite for the left-back position. But the philosophical Brazilian manager has always asked us to focus on all his 26 and not individual players. “Brazil has 26 great athletes. We do not call them starting players or reserves. They are all players.” he had said.
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South Korea, too, has been plagued by injuries. Tottenham’s Son Heung-min miraculously recovered from a facial fracture to play in Qatar with a Zorro face mask, and Hwang Hee-chan, whose goal took Korea through, has also struggled with a hamstring strain.
Brazil was last knocked out in the Round of 16 by a Claudio Caniggia strike in 1990, and the Taegeuk Warriors’ last progress beyond this round came in the 2002 World Cup on home soil. But history has never mattered in a World Cup, more so in this one in Qatar.