Five-time world champions Brazil won’t take Croatia lightly when they face off in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 quarter-finals today but the popular South American side will be aiming to keep focus on their ‘own standards’, coach Tite said on Thursday.
Brazil on Monday crushed Asian giants South Korea 4-1 in their Round of 16 clash in which the 2002 World Cup winners welcomed back PSG star Neymar Jr following a twisted ankle in the first match of the tournament.
Croatia, captained by Luka Modric, beat four-time Asian champions Japan in a penalty shootout to set up a quarter-finals date with Brazil.
With first-choice Brazil left back Alex Sandro uncertain for today’s clash at Education City Stadium, Tite candidly admitted the world number one side would be playing to their strengths.
“They (Croatia) have individual quality and collective quality as well as a resilience and persistence,” coach Tite said when asked about Brazil’s next opponents Croatia.
“We are aware of their virtues but my focus is on maintaining our own standards. Whoever plays best will go through,” Tite, 61, added quickly.
Tite, who is set to leave as coach after his second World Cup with Brazil, said he allows his players to express themselves.
“We give them (the players) the confidence so they can go out and produce their best,” Tite said. “These are the characteristics of our players, but beyond that pressure, you need courage to play this way,” he added.
“This team’s attacking methods has been going across generation of players. I would also point out that there is good balance in the squad. The players know the importance of having a balanced squad. They take pride in defending, of taking care when you don’t have the ball and doing quick recovery,” the coach said.
Fit-again Danilo, who has also recovered from an ankle injury like Neymar, hoped Sandro would be fit to play against Croatia.
“I hope (Sandro) can train well and be available for the match,” Danilo said at a news conference yesterday. “I’m healthy and I’m comfortable playing in all three defensive positions. I believe that I’ll make the transition soon to centre back because I feel very comfortable playing there at Juventus,” Danilo added.
Tite, however, was more definitive about Sandro’s chances. He said: “It looks unlikely that he will play because he has not yet done enough work on the training ground. He still needs to push a little harder, I have to see with the medical and physical department. It will depend on this afternoon.”
Modric, 37, yesterday said Croatia are eager to overcome the Brazil hurdle.
“We did a great thing by going to the quarter-finals, but regardless of that we would like to do more,” Modric said yesterday. “We have to play our best match against them and if we do that, then we could have a chance of winning the match,” the Real Madrid midfielder added.
Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic yesterday pointed to his team’s performances at Russia 2018 – where they finished runners-up – and at Qatar 2022 have been impressive.
“We have had 11 matches at these two World Cups and we lost one,” Dalic said yesterday. “Croatia are a small country and enjoying success in two World Cups. We managed to reach this stage but we are ambitious and don’t want to stay here,” he added before saying a quarter-finals clash against Brazil wouldn’t be easy. “I believe that this match will be the most demanding one. I can compare it to the final against France in the previous World Cup. Yes, a great opponent and a great challenge awaits us,” Dalic said. “I wish this match came a bit later,” he added.
Reaching the quarter-finals has been a delightful experience for Dalic.
“There are 18 new players who were not at the World Cup in 2018 (in Russia). We need time to develop and mature. Our success to be among the eight best teams is tremendous,” Dalic said yesterday.
“They (the new players) have still to prove themselves at the World Cup and tomorrow (the quarter-finals against Brazil) is a good opportunity for them to do so. We want to do more and if we manage to do it, it would be spectacular. It would be better if it was the final,” he said.
Modric, who is likely playing his last World Cup, said he wanted to see his team beat Brazil.
“We have faced Brazil on several occasions and never won against them. I hope we can change the tradition,” Modic said yesterday. “The greatest match at a World Cup is now ahead of us. They are always favourites to win but with what they demonstrated here they deserve to be one of the favourites,” he said.
“We have to play our best match and then we have a chance. We should not be satisfied with reaching the quarter-finals,” Modric said.
Tite yesterday played down the dancing celebrations of the Brazilian players during their win over South Korea on Monday. The dancing celebrations divided Brazil with many fans saying the players showed disrespect to South Korean team
Tite defended the players. He said: “I am 61 and these players could almost be my grandsons but I have a connection with them. If I have to dance I will dance, although I will do so subtly and I asked them to hide me. It is not my way.”