Brazil aim to keep dancing against Croatia
Brazil wants to keep the dancing going at the World Cup when it faces Croatia on Friday with a spot in the semifinals on the line.
The Brazilians have made it clear they will not back from their goal celebrations in Qatar despite criticism by some.
“It´s part of the Brazilian culture,” Brazil coach Tite said yesterday. “It´s not about disrespecting our opponents. It´s just who we are.”
Tite himself was dancing with his players after Brazil scored in the 4-1 win against South Korea in the round of 16 on Monday.
Brazil forward Vinícius Júnior also promised more dancing if Brazil keeps succeeding.
“The goal is the most important moment in soccer, not only for those who score them but for the entire country,” said Vinícius Júnior, who had already been criticized for his dances while with Real Madrid. “We still have many celebrations left, and hopefully we can keep scoring and dancing like this until the final.”
Brazilian players had said before the tournament started that they had several goal celebrations prepared ahead of time.
To keep dancing, though, Brazil will have to get past a tough Croatia side that is led by Luka Modric and trying to return to the World Cup final four years after falling short of the title against France.
“We want to do more,” Modric said. “We must not be satisfied only with reaching the quarterfinals. We know that we have a strong opponent ahead of us. We have our own strengths and we have faith in ourselves.”
Modric knows some of the Brazilians well, as he plays with Vinícius Júnior, Rodrygo and Éder Militão at Madrid, which also had Casemiro in the squad until recently. Vinícius Júnior said Modric was a reference for him, and that he learned a lot from the 37-year-old veteran midfielder.
“It´s very nice to hear Vini compliment me. He is a great guy and we have a very strong relationship,” Modric said. “He´s made progress since joining Real Madrid and has been showing that at the World Cup. We have a difficult task to try to stop him. If I can give my teammates a tip or two on how to neutralize him and on how to make his job more difficult, of course I´ll do it.”
Like Brazil, Croatia conceded only twice so far at the World Cup. The team defeated Canada 4-1 before 0-0 draws against Morocco and Belgium in the group stage. Croatia drew 1-1 with Japan in extra time in the round of 16, eventually winning in a penalty shootout.
Four of the last five matches by Croatia at World Cups have gone to extra time. The national team has been successful in seven of its last nine knockout matches at the tournament.
“They have great quality and a lot of resiliency,” Tite said. “Brazil will try to keep doing what has worked so far, and then we´ll see which team can advance.”
Brazil is looking for the team’s first victory over a European team in the knockout stage of the World Cup since the South Americans’ win against Germany in the 2002 final.
“Of course, Brazil is the favourite,” Modrić told reporters at a press conference on the eve of the match. “Favourites can also lose.”
The underdog role suits the Croatians well. It’s one they know, too. The nation of under four million people surprisingly reached the final of the last World Cup, losing to France 4-2. Only three participants at this tournament — Uruguay, Wales and host Qatar — have smaller populations. All of them were eliminated in the first round.
Yet here is Croatia among the last eight standing for the second World Cup in a row after beating Japan on penalties on Monday in the round of 16. And they’re doing it with an almost entirely different set of players; 18 of the 26 men on coach Zlatko Dalić’s roster weren’t on the team four years ago.
“There is no better motivation than playing in the quarterfinals against Brazil,” Modrić said. “Anyone could only dream of such a match. We know what Brazil means in the football world.
“We don’t have a lot to lose,” the 37-year-old Real Madrid maestro added. “Croatia is one of the eighth best in the World Cup. That’s a great success, and we want to do more. If we managed to win, it would be spectacular.”
Croatia’s focus will be on defending first. Do that well, and they’ll have a fighting chance against a team that put four goals past South Korea in the first 36 minutes of their last outing. Surviving the early onslaught will be key.