The fifth and sixth round of 16 ties of the 2022 World Cup saw Japan take on Croatia and Brazil face South Korea.
We got to watch two very different games, as one went on for two hours without a winner, while the other was effectively decided in 12 minutes.
Round of 16: Japan 1-1 Croatia (1-3 on penalties)
Japan were seeking their first-ever knockout victory at the World Cup against Croatia, who had not won such a match in a major competition in normal time since 1998.
A close game was expected, and that is exactly what we got. Croatia kept more possession, which was fine by Japan as they tended to defend in a very compact 5-4-1 mid-block with very limited spaces between the lines.
Zlatko Dalić’s side didn’t really have consistent runners in behind to try and stretch the opposition defence, so they looked quite flat in the first half.
By contrast, Japan looked sharp in possession. Croatia did apply a bit of a press in a 4-1-4-1 shape, but the Samurai Blue were mostly able to play through it. Then, as they got forward, their wingers tucked into the half-spaces to receive the ball between the line, while the wing-backs got forward out wide.
They were the better team in the first 45 minutes and eventually got their reward when Daizen Maeda scored after a corner on the stroke of half-time.
Ten minutes into the second period, Croatia equalised through a bullet header from Ivan Perišić, who became the Vatreni’s all-time leading goalscorer in major tournaments.
Overall, their performance remained similar to what we saw in the first period, whereas Japan seemingly started to tire and dropped off as the game wore on, so we headed for the first extra time period of the tournament.
That was no more entertaining than the last minutes of regulation time, so everyone started looking forward to penalties quite quickly.
Japan won both tosses so they went first and in front of their fans, but that edge was no good as all of their efforts severely lacked conviction, allowing Dominik Livaković to save three of four and become Croatia’s hero.
Round of 16: Brazil 4-1 South Korea
South Korea began their third World Cup knockout campaign after their shock win over Portugal on the last day of the groups.
They had a much tougher opponent to overcome if they were to advance any further, since they crossed paths with pre-tournament favourites Brazil.
The Seleção had topped Group G and looked fairly impressive, but against three staunch defences, they could just manage three goals. South Korea may have also been hoping to contain and frustrate them, but they adopted a fairly risky approach out of possession, allowing Brazil to take advantage.
Vinícius Júnior opened the scoring in the seventh minute with an extremely composed finish after some nice work on the right from Raphinha. A few minutes later, Neymar stylishly converted a penalty won by Richarlison to put Brazil in a comfortable position already.
The Tottenham forward scored the third himself after he juggled the ball on the edge of the box in the build-up and then made a third man run as the two centre-backs played one-touch passes to slip him in on goal, from where he could not miss (yes, you read all of that correctly).
There was a fourth before half-time as Lucas Paquetá applied a measured finish to a lovely dinked assist by Vinícius Júnior, and truthfully, there could have been even more.
Brazil unsurprisingly took their foot off the pedal for the second half, so South Korea drew a couple of good stops from Alisson before pulling one back from Paik Seung-Ho’s strike in the 76th minute.
Tite then brought his keeper off for Weverton, ensuring that each of his 26-man squad got some playing time at this tournament.
On the evidence of the first half, this was the best team performance we have seen in Qatar by some margin, as Brazil turned on the style and fired on all cylinders.
South Korea might have rather played into their hand,s but the way they were dispatched was quite extraordinary to watch, as was the dancing from Tite.
In all seriousness, though, the 61-year-old manager has clearly fostered a great team spirit and has his side playing some incredible football on the pitch, making Brazil the clear favourites to lift the World Cup.
👀 Looking Ahead
The last two round of 16 matches are scheduled for tomorrow:
Morocco vs Spain (18:00 AST):
Morocco, the only side yet to concede to an opponent at this tournament, take on the joint top-scorers Spain in what is set to be a very intriguing match-up. Walid Regragui has earned many plaudits for his clever defensive set-ups that have stifled his opponents, but he will need something special for this game. Spain have the highest possession average at the tournament at a whopping 76.1%, so they are sure to test the Moroccan defence in every way possible.
Portugal vs Switzerland (22:00 AST):
The final Round of 16 tie pits Portugal against Switzerland, who could pose some real problems. Fernando Santos’ side’s possession-play has not always been great while the Swiss defence has looked pretty solid on its day, keeping a clean sheet against Cameroon and restricting Brazil to just one goal. Murat Yakin will hope to have Yann Sommer back from illness, since his penalty-saving speciality might come in handy if this game goes the distance.
Stats courtesy Opta via FotMob.
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