World Cup Thoughts – Day 16
Japan vs Croatia and Brazil vs South Korea
Well we’re really cooking now. Three quarters of the way through the round of 16, we have a clear sense of the shape of this tournament. Let’s talk about it.
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Japan 1-1 Croatia (Croatia win on penalties)
How do Croatia keep doing this?
When they lost the World Cup final four years ago, I believed this would represent the gradual winding down of Croatia as a serious international force. Half their starting eleven against France in Moscow were over 30 and this is just how it goes. For a country of four million people to produce this many good players is remarkable, but demography has to be destiny in the end, right?
Five of the starting eleven from the final four years ago have retired from international football (Danijel Subašić, Šime Vrsaljko, Ivan Strinić, Ivan Rakitić and Mario Mandžukić), while others are getting pretty long in the tooth. Croatia named the oldest starting eleven in a World Cup knockout game since 2006. If this went to extra time, they were going to get tired, right? They couldn’t just pretend it was 2018 again, surely?
I was wrong.
It really felt like Japan had them in the first half. They were doing a good job of dragging Luka Modrić into wide areas and really blunting his influence. This was probably the star man’s weakest performance of the tournament so far, though he was still very good. But Croatia just keep going and going. Marcelo Brozović really stepped it up here, playing both the most passes (115) and the most progressive passes (9). I’d love to learn more about Croatian youth football, because no country is better at producing these technical midfielders on a per-capita basis. No one else comes close.
Zlatko Dalić and his staff have done a tremendous job of building a style of football around these qualities. They just grind you and grind you with that intricate passing until your legs fall off. They can afford to go into extra time when they’re doing so much of their work with the ball.
Of course, but for a penalty shootout I would’ve written something completely different. I’m overwhelmingly team “it’s a lottery” when it comes to shootouts, and I think most attempts to analyse the meaning behind them are a perfect example of this famous xkcd cartoon.
Having said this, Japan did give us a rare genuinely bad penalty shootout. I have no idea what happened that they forgot how to strike the ball with any power. A bizarre affair that ensures I say lots of nice things about Croatia’s passing instead of Japan hanging on until the end.
Brazil 4-1 South Korea
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