Brazil reaffirmed their status as the World Cup favorite with a 4-1 win over South Korea to set up a quarterfinal against Croatia.
Brazil have never lost in four previous meetings with Croatia, with this their first meeting since a 2-0 friendly win in June 2018.
The South Americans are looking to reach the World Cup semi-final for the ninth time, with only Germany (12) doing so more often.
Croatia, runners-up in 2018, have reached at least the last four of the competition on both previous occasions they’ve made it out of the group stages (1998 and 2018).
The Croatians advanced to the knockout stage of Qatar 2022 after finishing ahead of Belgium and Canada, but in second place behind Morocco in Group F.
They have a host of experienced players, like Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, Dejan Lovren and Andrej Kramaric, with Josko Gvardiol one of the breakout stars at this tournament.
Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was the hero in the last round, becoming just the third goalkeeper in World Cup history to save as many as three penalties in a shootout.
While Brazil’s attack has garnered a lot of adulation, they’ve been impregnable at the back.
The only goals Brazil have conceded in Qatar have been to Cameroon with a heavily rotated squad, having already progressed, and South Korea’s consolation in the Round of 16.
The the spine of their defense has been performing at an elite level. In Casemiro in midfield, Marquinhos and Thiago Silva at centerback, and Alisson in goal, Brazil have a quartet featuring three world-class players and one of their best-ever performers in Silva.
Brazil’s defense has effectively muted any attacking opportunities for opponents so far. They’re conceding just 0.35 expected goals against per 90 — the second-lowest at the World Cup behind Argentina — and opponents are averaging just 11.25 shot-creating actions per 90 against them.
Neymar has been involved in 15 goals in his last 11 appearances for Brazil in all competitions (eight goals, seven assists), with each of his last six goals for the national side coming from the penalty spot.
Last time out against South Korea, he became the first Brazil player on record (since 1966) to both score and provide an assist at three different World Cup tournaments.
After suffering an ankle injury against Serbia in the opening game, he missed the following group matches versus Switzerland and Cameroon.
He needs one more goal to draw level with Pele (77 goals) as the leading men’s goalscorer in Brazilian national team history.
Real Madrid star Luka Modric was not on the pitch as Croatia progressed past Japan on penalties in the last 16, but if Zlatko Dalic’s team are to beat Brazil, the 37-year-old will surely be crucial.
Modric has played 16 times in the FIFA World Cup for Croatia overall, two more than any other player. He will go up against former Madrid club-mate Casemiro, and will need the assistance of Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic, but if Modric can wield his influence, Croatia have a chance.
Who will win?
Despite getting to the quarters, Croatia are unlikely to prevail against Brazil.
We predict an easy 2-0 win for Brazil.