Croatia v Canada
After an uninspiring draw against Morocco, Croatia take on Canada in a game that already looks must-win to retain serious hopes of reaching the knockout stages. Ahead of the tournament, the two question marks were over the striking and right wing roles – the answers weren’t found against Morocco but with Canada looking very susceptible to breaks, Croatia will hope to find far more joy.
With Croatia regularly at their best later in games, they will have been encouraged to see the Canadian side looking out on their feet at the end of their exertions against Belgium and a less conservative outlook than against Morocco is to be expected with a focus on moving the ball more quickly. Zlatko Dalic has been at pains to point out he felt that both flanks needed a big improvement on the performance against Morocco. In team news, while Nikola Vlasic was taken off at half time against Morocco, he is back training and fit for the game.
Even in defeat, Canada managed to shock the world. Heavily outchancing and dominating Belgium in your first World Cup match in 36 years tends to have that effect. Having played the match on their terms, Canada should feel more confident heading into Sunday’s pivotal game against Croatia. Losing isn’t an option for the Canadians, who are now up against it if they want to advance out of Group F.
Battling the previous finalists obviously won’t be simple. Unlike Belgium, Croatia boast a midfield that can take over games and have teams running in circles chasing after them. It will be a massive ask for Canada to grab a result. However, having gotten over the nerves of their World Cup debuts, the players should be hungrier than ever. Croatia looked susceptible to Morocco’s rapid pace on the flanks and nullified the midfield as well as anyone could hope.
If John Herdman plays his cards right, Canada could surprise the 2018 finalists. At the very least, they could live to fight another day entering the final round of matches against Morocco on Thursday. Croatia remain favourites to qualify from the group but the message to Dalic’s players is clear – far better is expected of them and, against a fearless Canadian side, it will be needed.
Even at 37, Modric remains the main man for Croatia and chief penalty taker in the side. Against a Canada side that will offer space on the break and go in for last-ditch tackles, Modric offers a triple threat – prowling outside the box for a shot or pass and from the penalty spot should the Canadians infringe there.
Modric is a reliable penalty taker, going five from five so far in 2022 and that reliability and coolness will be an essential attribute against the smash-mouth style Canada display. Equally dangerous from 12 yards or 25 yards, Modric will be vital in the space Canada leave.
Given that Alistair Johnston could be relegated to the bench to ensure he isn’t suspended for the group stage finale, Richie Laryea should stick at right-back.
He will be a busy man. Ivan Perisic and Borna Sosa will be a handful going forward. Plus with Johnston waiting to relieve him if necessary, Laryea might take the opportunity to pick up his first yellow card of the tournament.
Only Steven Vitoria (5) received more bookings during World Cup Qualifying than Laryea (4), and given the feisty nature of the game, expect the Toronto FC defender to be in the thick of handbags.
Croatia’s failings against Morocco took Brozovic out of the game somewhat but suited him on his path back to fitness with Zlatko Dalic emphasising he needs minutes to reach his best. With Croatia going to be more open, and Canada certain to offer a more physical challenge in the centre than Morocco did, Brozovic will likely be back to his bustling best, breaking up phases of play for fun.
During Croatia’s Nations League campaign, Brozovic was averaging 2.2 fouls per game. That ratio should be easy to keep up against the physical challenges Canada will present, particularly as Brozovic will be far more up to speed with the game than he was against the Moroccans.
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