Croatia advanced past the first stage of the World Cup knockout rounds at Qatar 2022. The draw and subsequent penalty kicks against Japan had all the shades of Russia 2018.
Back then, Croatia played to a 1-1 draw against Denmark, also in the round of 16. Croatia topped the Danes on penalties, the same fate as Japan.
As a matter of fact, Croatia drew more than its ‘Round of 16’ match 4 years ago. Croatia played to a draw against both Russia and England in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. The Russia contest needed penalties, but Mario Mandžukić grabbed the winner against England in extra time.
Croatia plays up drama in World Cup knockout rounds
Croatia may see the World Cup knockout rounds as just one goal: advance. If that is the case, Croatia was perfect in its quest back in 2018. Now, Croatia is emulating that approach.
For a soccer neutral, Croatia’s style of play has come under criticism. They tend to slow down the tempo. Commentators are often heard describing Croatia as slow compared to their opponents. But, for Croatia’s fans it’s simply “what they do.”
The drama they bring to their fans is not just for 90 minutes. Rather, it is for the full 120, and potentially more. In the back of their minds, they surely wonder if “this” is the match where their luck finally runs out.
One thing that can’t be argued against, however, the fans, like the team, never give up hope. And the positive results for this tiny nation continue.
And Now Comes Brazil
It has become a cliché. Still, there is truth to saying that whenever a country plays Brazil, it is their proverbial ‘Final.’ Cameroon, which defeated Brazil in the last group stage match, does not care that the five-time winners rested players as it already advanced to the round of 16. Cameroon will not even remember that it did not advance. What Cameroon will remember – and remarkably so – is that it is the first African side to defeat Brazil in a World Cup.
Brazil is soccer encapsulated. Its performance against South Korea has removed any doubt why they are the favorites for this tournament. They sealed a victory within a quarter of an hour.
Croatians, and pretty much the world, could only respond with a “wow.” Does Croatia stand a chance? The short answer is yes. It’s soccer. But Croatian fans and certainly the players know that it will take a perfect match to give Croatia even a small chance at an upset. And, while Croatia is yet to show that perfection on the pitch in this World Cup, the nation has the talent to meet those expectations.
Echoes of Russia 2018 still live within Croatian fans. The key is not to allow Brazil to be Brazil. That’s a tall order. Still, Croatia’s success depends on exactly that – not allowing their opponents to execute their strategies. Give them respect, but don’t be afraid of their strength. Then, let the clock slowly run out. All 120 minutes of it.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Xinhua
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