The last time the World Cup was held in Asia, in 2002, Brazil began the tournament with back-to-back victories and went on to lift the trophy. Back on the same continent, the Seleção won their first two World Cup group games matches for the first time since the 2002 tournament. After wins against Serbia and Switzerland had secured qualification for the pre-tournament favourites, coach Tite made nine changes for the final group game against Cameroon. Like France, who also made nine changes following their opening wins, Brazil lost by a single goal in their third outing, bringing their record run of 17 consecutive World Cup group games without defeat to an end. Brazil’s first-half display in the Round of 16 against South Korea was arguably the most eye-catching performance of the tournament so far, as Brazil put the game to bed with four goals in 36 minutes. Across their four games in Qatar, Brazil has averaged 57.8% possession, while registering 30 shots on target, and allowing only nine, and in the process, the Seleção became the first team in 24 years to negotiate their first two group matches without conceding a shot on target.
Croatia’s first two group games couldn’t have been more different. Their opener against Morocco featured few chances and ended goalless. On Matchday 2 against Canada, the deadlock was broken after just 68 seconds, by Canada’s Alphonso Davies. Croatia turned things around, running out comfortable 4-1 winners. The Blazers still needed something from their last group game against top-seeds, Belgium, and they had to survive several late chances for substitute, Romelu Lukaku, en route to a goalless draw. Finishing as runners-up behind Morocco in Group F meant a last-16 meeting with surprise group winners, Japan, who took the lead just before half-time. Croatia rallied to force extra time before three penalty saves from goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic were the difference. Across their four matches, Croatia has achieved 54.8% possession and registered 20 shots on target, while conceding 11.
Brazil will either opt for a 4-2-3-1 formation, or possibly 4-3-3, which is also the system preferred by Croatia’s Zlatko Dalic. World number one Brazil are unbeaten in four previous meetings with 12th-ranked Croatia, with the most recent encounter resulting in a 2-0 victory in a 2018 friendly. Four of Croatia’s last five World Cup knockout games have gone to extra time, with three requiring penalties to decide the outcome. They have fallen behind in each of those five matches and rallied to win four of those games. Falling behind against Brazil is likely to be terminal.