Brazil thought they had laid down a marker and produce the stand-out performance of the World Cup round of 16, until Portugal had their say 24 hours later. Still, the Selecao’s 4-1 demolition job on South Korea will live long in the tournament’s memory, if for no reason other than the flamboyant football and subsequent ‘Samba’ dancing that caused so much controversy.
The Brazilians’ over-exuberance was understandable, and probably just an expression of delight at the football they were playing to sweep aside the South Koreans. The strikes from Richarlison and Lucas Paqueta were certainly easy on the eye, the kind of goals Brazil used to score in the 1960s and 1970s to universal acclaim.
It’s scarcely believable to those who can remember Pele’s playing days that Brazil haven’t featured in a World Cup final for 20 years – let alone lift the trophy. But now they have a centre-forward in Richarlison for whom the burden of the No.9 shirt doesn’t appear to weigh too heavy; they have the Samba flair of Vinicius Junior and Raphinha on the wings and, what’s more, Neymar is fit and firing again.
All of this, coupled with the stodginess of Croatia’s football so far in Qatar, makes this potentially the easiest quarter-final to call and explains why most bookmakers have Brazil as 1/2 favourites (with Croatia 6/1 with many sites).
The European nation might have reached the final four years ago in Russia, they might boast gnarled tournament veterans like Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Dejan Lovren in their ranks, but they looked seriously leggy against Japan in the last 16 and were fortunate to prevail on penalties. They drew two of their group games 0-0, against Morocco and Belgium, and their 4-1 victory over Canada was more a result of the Maple Leafs’ naivety and liberal approach to defending.
Zlatko Dalić’s side might be well advised to rely on penalties again, although keeping Brazil at bay for 120 minutes looks a seriously tall order. The bookies are offering shorter odds on Brazil to win to nil (6/5) than Brazil to win and both teams to score (5/2); they don’t like Croatia’s chances of finding the net.
Ante Budimir and Andre Kramaric are rated as Croatia’s best hopes to breach Alisson in the Brazil goal – although nine Brazil players (Neymar, Richarlison, Pedro, Vinicius Jr, Antony, Rodrgyo, Raphinha, Gabriel Martinelli and Everton Ribeiro) are rated as more likely to find the net than a Croatian player (14/1 – Budimir).
It’s all a roundabout way of saying that Brazil really ought to cruise into the semi-finals, setting up a possible meeting with South American rivals Argentina, barring another classic Qatar 2022 upset. You never know in this World Cup, but this is as close a sure-thing as a World Cup quarter-final can be.