The quarter finals of the FIFA World Cup get underway in Qatar on Friday and they begin with the tournament favourites Brazil looking to make it into the final four when they go up against the beaten finalists of the 2018 tournament in Croatia.
Croatia had to survive a penalty shootout to make it through to this quarter final while Brazil had much more of a cruise so it will be interesting to see if that is significant when we look back on this opening last eight clash.
Where to watch
This opening quarter final will be shown live and in full on the BBC 1 channel with the build-up to it beginning at 2.30pm and the match kicking off at 3pm.
Croatia made it all the way to the final of the World Cup in 2018 and they are two wins away from making it back to that stage again this time around but the question over them isn’t whether they can go all the way to the final, we know they can do, but whether they have enough left in the tank to do it. This is a side who aren’t getting any younger so having to go to penalties so early in the competition probably isn’t an ideal situation.
The bigger issue for Croatia could be that they haven’t really created sustained bursts of attacking pressure in their matches so far, with the exception of the emphatic win over Canada, although the Canucks contributed to their own downfall in that encounter. They have only scored one goal in three matches aside from that win over Canada and when you consider the attacking unit they go up against here, you suspect they’ll need to find more goals to compete here.
There was a feeling that throughout the group stage Brazil were just biding their time and waiting for the right moment to show all of their class. We know they had it in abundance because the attacking options Tite has selected in his squad are basically an avalanche of riches. We saw that in person in the Round of 16 win over South Korea which was as emphatic as they come and while the Asian outfit contributed to some of the attacking play we saw, what we also saw was what we love to see from a Brazil team.
It was full of flair, enjoyment, fun and massive amounts of quality and if they have that with them in this match then they are going to be extremely tough to beat. The big thing about Brazil is that if their starters don’t do it for them then there is a raft of talent to come off the bench to replace them without really weakening the team. One chink they showed against South Korea was at the back where Alisson was busier than he would have wanted to be but that is the other beauty of this Brazil side, they have possibly the two best keepers in the competition too.
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Zlatko Dalic has confessed he has no fresh injury concerns heading into this quarter final. Borna Sosa missed the last game with injury but he is back in training and could replace Rangers left-back Borna Barisic in the starting XI.
Tite has got a bit of an issue at left-back where Alex Telles picked up an injury earlier in the tournament and Alex Sandro is also struggling as well. That might mean Danilo continues to deputise on the left side. Gabriel Jesus has been ruled out of the competition.
I’m already on Croatia outright so I hope they can find a way to come through this match but I am a little concerned that they had to put so much into the win over Japan that an aging side might not have enough to give. They would have been up against it anyway but I’m still going to keep some faith because I do think they can make themselves hard to beat even if they are relying on one piece of brilliance at the other end.
I do like a bet in this match though and that comes in the form of Lucas Paqueta to have a shot on target in the 90 minutes. He had two of them against South Korea, including his goal in that game, and I suspect Croatia will look to keep Neymar quiet which might open up the spaces for the West Ham man to come to the party. He showed in that South Korea match that he has got quality about him, both in his movement and his technical ability and we saw the Japan central midfielders get right up to the edge of the Croatia box in the last game and with no disrespect intended, Paqueta has more quality than those. He is 2/1 to hit the target in this match and that is plainly too big so I’ll take him to have a shot on goal here.
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