Croatia will take on the juggernaut that is Brazil at the Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan, on Friday in the first of the quarterfinal ties.
Brazil come into this game having comfortably seen off the challenge of South Korea in the previous round, while Croatia had to rely on the heroics of goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic in a penalty shootout victory over Japan.
The winner of this game will face off against the winner of the quarterfinal tie between the Netherlands and Argentina.
Croatia Key Player: Mateo Kovacic
While Luka Modric is still the creative focal point of this Croatian team, Kovacic has been an industrious presence alongside him in midfield. His 96.3 challenge grade ranks first among all players at the World Cup. The dynamism of Kovacic has been crucial, too, as the 37-year-old Modric can’t quite adopt the same all-action approach that he did earlier in his career.
Additionally, his very respectable passing grade (76.8) ranks 23rd among players at his position. He has attempted to be progressive with his passing, completing 19-of-24 line-breaking passes and 5-of-7 defensive-line-breaking passes. Kovacic will look to test the resolve of the Brazilian back four with some enterprising passes in behind.
Brazil Key Player: Vinícius Júnior
Vini Jr has been a thorn in the side of his opponents every time he has taken the field at this World Cup. Over his three games, he has scored once, assisted twice and made six additional key passes. His playmaking ability has been reflected in our grades, with his 79.3 passing grade and 77.1 crossing grade ranking fifth and 11th, respectively, among all players at his position. He’s completed 91% of his passes, including all three of his line-breaking pass attempts.
He has also received 13 line-breaking passes, including two that broke the defensive line, so Brazil will hope to utilize his pace to get in behind the Croatian back four.
Matchup to watch: Richarlison vs. Josko Gvardiol
Richarlison has been a tour de force for Brazil in this tournament, as his 95.0 shooting grade ranks second among all players. Croatia’s central defensive partnership of Dejan Lovren and Josko Gavrdiol will have their work cut out curbing the threat he poses, but particularly intriguing is the matchup of Gvardiol and Richarlison.
Gvardiol's 92.0 grade on 50/50 duels ranks second out of all players, while Richarlison's 90.2 grade ranks fourth. Also impressive is that Gvardiol has won 75% of the dribbles he’s faced in the tournament.
The winner of this matchup may go a long way to deciding the outcome of the tie.