In the modern game, we have lost out on the candid and honest interview in the media. That’s why the sound bites after Brazil’s 3-1 victory over Croatia were so good. Croatian coach Niko Kovac was right to say after the match about referee Yuichi Nishimura, “I had a feeling that the referee had one set of rules for us and the other for Brazil.” The penalty call was sloppy and he bought a bad dive. A number of other questionable decisions were made, and the crowd undoubtedly influenced the officiating crew. He has every right to criticize the way the match was handled.
But Croatia did not lose this match because of the referees, they lost because of themselves.
It was apparent from the early going that Brazil were going to struggle defensively in this match. As they poured forward and tried to feed the ball to Neymar to create scoring opportunities, there was space for Croatia to pressure the Brazilian midfield and create good scoring chances. Marcelo and Dani Alves (as they are tactically supposed to do) were surging forward and, if Croatia had thought to take advantage of this, they could have launched quicker counters or used their own wingers in their 4-2-3-1 to create scoring opportunities, especially in the first half when the game was in reach. The first goal was created from just this type of play off the wings.
Additionally, Julio Cesar looked very shaky in net for Brazil, a definite concern for them going forward. When Croatia challenged him with shots – especially a few outside the box – he looked indecisive or slow to react even to saves that should have given him little trouble. However, we didn’t see many of these shots, as Croatia only had four on target for the match.
Questions have to be asked about Kovac and his tactics coming into this game. Neither Ivica Olic nor Ivan Perisic provided much value on the wing and, when you look at their average position on the field, they were more tucked into the midfield, denying Croatia any space. The substitutions made were to shore up the middle but again, this did not overall improve Croatia’s shape or give them attacking options to trouble a shaky defense.
Eduardo is a player who can provide an offensive spark for Croatia, but I can somewhat understand Kovac not wanting to play him in front of a crowd that, already fired up for the first match, would be mercilessly harassing him for being a Brazilian on the Croatian side. That said, Kovac would do well to think about tactically using him in the next few matches, both starting and changing Croatia’s shape or having him as an impact sub.
The referee had a miserable match, and deserves the criticism he is getting. But Croatia lost the opportunity to grab a valuable point in this match on their own.