World Cup recap - Round of 16
Round of 16 Day Three results:
Japan 1 - 1 Croatia
Brazil 4 - 1 South Korea
Five Things We Learned
Jogo Bonito On Show As Brazil Score Four Past a Hapless South Korea
It was a vintage Brazilian performance, as their rare mix of flair and control was on show for all to see in their game against South Korea this morning.
Brazil scored four brilliant goals, including a silky counterattack for their third goal that showcased the Brazilians' innate connection and creativity they have in full flight on a football pitch.
Brazil was streaming into Japan’s half on the counter, and the ball found its way to Neymar, who had seemingly acres of space as he approached the goal. As he was closed down by the Korean defenders, Neymar picked out Vinicius Junior, who was making a run in behind the defenders on the wing.
Vinicius held the ball up, assessing his options momentarily before delightfully floating the ball over the heads of the helpless Korean defenders, where Lucas Paqueta expertly met the ball on the run and tucked it past the sprawled limbs of the Korean goalkeeper into the back of the net.
It was a goal that could only have been scored by the Brazilian team at this World Cup, and it showed that Brazil are in superb touch as they head into a winnable quarter-final against Croatia.
Brazil were buoyed by the return of superstar Neymar who earned the man of the match award in his first game since being forced off the ground against Serbia in Brazil’s opening game with an ankle injury.
But it wasn’t just Neymar who caused havoc for the South Korean defence, with Vinicius and Richarlison adding to the highlights reel with a series of deft touches and instinctive passes.
Brazil’s performance will be an ominous sign to the rest of the competition that the South American giants are capable of playing an extremely high-quality game despite missing some of the important cogs within their team.
Both Brazil’s left-backs Alex Sandro and Alex Telles, missed the game against South Korea, with right-back Danilo being required to play out of position. Plus, Brazilian manager Tite chose to leave out midfielders Fred and Bruno Guimarães, who each have a yellow card and will pick up a one-game suspension if they receive another before the end of the tournament.
If Brazil can get Alex Sandro back at left-back, plus they bring in either one of Bruno or Fred to control the midfield, they could potentially improve again.
Particularly when Fred and Bruno return to the team, Brazil is likely to control even more of the ball in midfield than they did against South Korea, and if they can match an increased amount of possession with the creative ability and attacking flair that was on display in this morning’s game, they will be very tough to beat for any team in this year’s World Cup.
Japan Come Heartbreakingly Close to Making History
Japan was left to rue missed chances and poor penalties after they went down to Croatia in a penalty shootout this morning.
It was an end-to-end game between Japan and Croatia, particularly in the first half, where both goalkeepers were active throughout and would have held their breath many times throughout the first half.
Japan opened the scoring through Daizen Maida, who plays under Ange Postecoglou at Celtic in club football, and went into halftime as the happier of the two teams.
However, Croatia emerged from the halftime huddle fired up and gave a much better account of themselves throughout the second half.
Croatia equalised in the 56th minute through a powerful header from Tottenham attacker Ivan Perisic and despite both teams peppering the goal in the second half, neither could ultimately find a winner.
As extra time came and went, a tense penalty shootout beckoned.
Ultimately, Croatia prevailed, with goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic making a hat-trick of saves during the shootout to become the toast of his home nation and deny the Japanese their maiden quarter-finals appearance.
Tears streamed from some of the faces of the Japanese fans in the stadium, who will have known that Japan came so close to a historic appearance at the World Cup quarter-finals.
Only South Korea (2002) and North Korea (1966) have ever made it to the quarter-finals of a World Cup whilst playing in the Asian Confederations, and if it wasn’t for missed chances and an incredible goalkeeping effort in the penalty shootout, Japan would add their name to that list.
As the Japanese supporters return home, they can at least take solace in the fact that they are one of the stories of this World Cup. To have won Group E, which contained Spain and Germany, having earned a pair of famous come-from-behind victories against the two European giants, Japanese football has come a long way in these past two weeks.
They have proved they belong on the world stage, playing against the biggest teams, which will benefit all other nations in the Asian Confederation as the world gains more respect for players coming out of Asia.
Ange Postecoglou is showing with his Celtic side that Japanese players can excel in Europe, so it’s likely that this won’t be Japan’s last chance to make a quarter-final of a World Cup in the near future.
Dancing Brazilians Should Be Celebrated, Not Criticised
Arguably the highlight and the thing that will be remembered from Brazil’s game against South Korea this morning didn’t directly have anything to do with football.
After each of the four Brazilian goals, the goalscorer would join with teammates and dance in celebration, showing a joyful exuberance from the game that became infectious.
On the SBS coverage at halftime, commentator Craig Foster referred to the fact that the Brazilian players were responding to racist taunts aimed one of their players, Vinicius Junior, has been receiving in Spain.
Vinicius has been celebrating his goals for club side Real Madrid by dancing, something that has inexplicably angered members of the Spanish media. With his recent goal-scoring form netting him so many goals, people have felt compelled to comment on his method of celebration, exposing their ignorance as they do.
The President of the Spanish Agents Association even went on television and said disgustingly "If you score a goal and want to dance samba, go to the Sambodromo. Here you have to respect your colleagues and stop acting like a monkey."
It was a remark that angered many of Vinicius' teammates, who came out to support the young winger.
Vinicius himself vowed to keep dancing and remained defiant, despite the unjustified criticism.
“Weeks ago, they began to criminalise my dances. Dances that are not mine.
“They belong to Ronaldinho, Neymar, [Lucas] Paqueta, [Antoine] Griezmann, Joao Felix, Matheus Cunha... they belong to Brazilian funk and samba artists, reggaeton singers, and black Americans.
“Those are dances to celebrate the cultural diversity of the world. Accept it, respect it. I'm not going to stop.”
It seems that in response to the unfair criticism that Vinicius had received, his Brazilian teammates decided to join him and danced in solidarity with their teammate.
Since the Brazilians were dancing in the game this morning, further sections of the, particularly British, media have continued to unfairly criticise the Brazilians for dancing in celebration.
It shows a lack of cultural sensitivity and historical understanding to criticise Brazilian footballers for dancing, as dance has always been a central part of the way Brazilians have played football and a fascinating element of Brazilian history.
Brazilians are known for their dynamic movement and creative flair when they play football. A style that has earned the name ‘La Ginga.’
The term, literally meaning “sway,” refers to the movement of the players and encapsulates the unique way the Brazilians go about playing football with an attacking approach and eye for entertainment, as well as simply playing the game to win dourly.
Part of where this style developed, was through Brazil’s historical slave trade.
In the early 16th century, slaves brought to Brazil from Angola in Africa developed a martial art called Capoeira.
It was developed as an unarmed tactic for self-defence against their Portuguese Colonial oppressors and included skills such as headbutting, kicking, deception and evasion.
To conceal the fact that they were training a martial art, the slaves incorporated elements of dance and acrobatics into Capoeira so they could practice in broad daylight and wouldn’t have to hide it from the Portuguese.
As time went on and Capoeira was banned by the Portuguese, one of the only ways that the Brazilian people could freely practice their dynamic, flowing movements was on a football field. So Capoeira, as well as other traditional dance forms brought from Africa like samba, came to be incorporated into the orthodox Brazilian style of play, and La Ginga was born.
To criticise the Brazilians for dancing, regardless of whether it appears disrespectful to your particular cultural perspective, is to deny and invalidate a huge aspect of Brazilian culture born out of slaves looking to defend and express themselves against their Colonial oppressors.
There are racist undertones to the criticism of Brazil’s dancing. Dancing is so central to Brazilian history and culture that to say it’s disrespectful discloses a lack of historical understanding and curiosity about why people in Brazil dance.
Not to mention the fact there is some irony in telling boys who grew up in the favelas, some of the poorest communities in the entire world, to “be humble.”
Both Neymar and Gabriel Jesus have a matching tattoo of a young boy holding a soccer ball and looking up at the favelas, a reminder of where they both come from.
Their story is common within the Brazilian team, as many of their players grew up in abject poverty and success as a footballer was their only way out of those living conditions.
Football and dancing have been so central to Brazilian cultural expression over the years, largely because their country had a slave trade. That should mean that the Brazilian players are allowed to dance in peace, and the rest of us who don’t understand anything about having forms of cultural expression taken away from us, might do well to look on without passing negative judgement.
Is Brazil’s Goalkeeper the Last Piece of the Puzzle?
Traditionally, Brazilian goalkeepers have not been as prominent as their attacking compatriots.
Known for an unmatched attacking style and creative flair, Brazilians haven’t historically celebrated their goalkeepers as much as they have their outfield players.
However, looking into Brazilian’s goalkeeping situation at this World Cup gives insight into why Brazil is in perfect shape to win the whole tournament.
Brazilian goalkeeper Allison pulled off several stunning saves in his side’s 4 - 1 victory over South Korea. Looking at the score after the game, it could have looked as if Brazil had completely dominated South Korea throughout the 90 minutes, but this wasn’t the case.
The South Koreans created several goalscoring opportunties, and their goal was not undeserved.
If Brazil had a lesser keeper who did not save so many of the Koreans’ shots at goal, they could have got a sniff of a famous comeback, and the game could have completely changed.
But Allison ensured that Brazil was never really uncomfortable at any stage of the game, despite giving up several chances on their own goal.
The goalkeeper is a piece of the puzzle that Brazil has struggled to find in recent years, with previous goalkeepers not matching the prominence or competence of their outfield counterparts. However, with Allison, as well as Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson on the bench, Brazil can be confident in the fact they have a world-class goalkeeper to match the ability of their top outfield players.
The other insight gained from the goalkeeping department could be found when Brazil’s third goalkeeper, Weverton, was substituted in the game against South Korea. In subbing his third goalkeeper onto the field, Brazilian manager Tite became the first manager to field a full squad of 26 players at a World Cup.
It meant that each Brazilian player representing their country has now seen game-time at this year’s World Cup. It shows that Tite has the ability to galvanise his entire squad and that he’s not relying on just a few players to carry the whole team as other Brazilian managers have potentially done in the past.
It bodes well for the pre-tournament favourites who are now showing why they were worthy of that mantle.
String of Rivalry Games Could Add to the Drama of the Next Few Games
This has already been an incredibly exciting World Cup full of upset results, emerging superstars and countless stories that will be celebrated for years to come.
But when we look ahead to the schedule for the next few games and some of the matchups that could take place, it’s clear that this World Cup is far from over.
Longtime rivals England and France have already locked in a quarter-final matchup that looks like it will be one of the games of the tournament.
Based on how these two teams have played so far, this pairing would not look out of place in a semi-final or a final, but they meet in the next game, which will take place at 6am on Sunday.
That might not be the only huge rivalry game that we see in the next few matches, with Argentina and Brazil, and Portugal and Spain set to both play off in huge encounters if the most likely results happen in each team's next match.
Spain is expected to easily account for a more defensively-minded Morocco, and Portugal is expected to defeat Switzerland in a much closer affair tomorrow morning.
If those two results do happen, it will set up some incredible matchups that are sure to bring plenty of excitement if they do, in fact, take place.
Particularly if Brazil vs Argentina is to take place in the semi-final, it would likely be one of the most hyped World Cup matches ever.
For Lionel Messi to have the opportunity to reach a World Cup final in his swansong, and do it by beating a Brazilian team that has cost him so many trophies over the years would be the cherry on top of his incredible international career.
Argentina defeated Brazil in Rio De Janeiro in last year’s Copa America final, so they will feel they have a good chance against Brazil, but after their game against South Korea, many people will have Brazil pegged as potential winners of the whole tournament with the form they’ve found in their last game.
The other potential matchup that could take place if the most likely results occur overnight is Portugal vs Brazil.
The two sides played out a thrilling 3-all draw in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup that included an 89th-minute Cristiano Ronaldo equaliser to cap off his hat trick in that game. It will be super exciting to see these teams face off with it all to play for in the knockout stages of a World Cup, where only one winner can emerge and progress to the next round.
We will have to see what happens in tonight’s matches before we get too excited for these matchups, but the possibility that they take place in coming matches shows how much of this World Cup we still have to look forward to.
You Might Have Missed…
One of the surprise performers of this World Cup has been 20-year-old Croatian defender Joško Gvardiol. Currently playing for RB Leipzig in Germany, Gvardiol is likely to be on the radar of some of the biggest clubs in the world after he has led a largely underwhelming Croatian side to the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
But one interesting tidbit about Gvardiol is that he might be one of the better-named athletes going around in world sport. The surname Gvardiol is derived from the Roman word ‘guardare’ which means ‘to guard.’
The name perfectly suits Gvardiol, who has admirably guarded Croatia’s goal against opposition attackers throughout this World Cup. It’s a name that followers of football are likely to see a lot more over the next few years, with it being reported that English club Chelsea is set to offer €80 million for the services of the young defender, so he’s likely to be guarding the goalmouth in big games for years to come.
2am AEDT - MOROCCO v SPAIN
Morocco will have all eyes on Africa on its game with Spain tomorrow as they hope to become the only African team into the quarter-finals of this year’s World Cup. It’s the first time Morocco has appeared in the Round of 16 since 1986, and they will be hoping to mark the occasion with an upset win against their neighbours from across the Alboran Sea.
Spain goes into the game as heavy favourites after their nine goals were the equal most of any team in the group stages. They haven’t had it all their way so far in this World Cup, however, after a poor second half in their loss to Japan robbed them of the top spot in Group E.
La Furia Roca will be hoping they can account for Morocco and go on to face Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal as a likely opponent in the quarter-final.
However, they will have to work hard to get past Morocco’s defence, with the Moroccans conceding just a single goal for the entire group stage.
It will be fascinating to see how Morocco’s defence performs against the attacking style and youthful exuberance of the Spanish team. If they can hold out the Spanish until late in the second half, Spain will feel the pressure build if they haven’t found a way through their Moroccan opponents.
6am AEDT - PORTUGAL v SWITZERLAND
Portugal will be hoping that a shock loss to South Korea in their final game of the group stage won’t be enough to derail their momentum when they take on Switzerland in the Round of 16.
Portugal was one of the best-performed sides of the group stage, being one of only three teams to win their opening two games and book automatic qualification prior to their third game against South Korea.
It potentially allowed Portugal to switch off a bit and conserve some energy in that third game, something that could be vital as the competition progresses.
The Portuguese will be hoping they’ve learned from past experiences, with their two previous appearances in the Round of 16 ending with an immediate exit at this stage. If they can go one better and reach the final 8 of this year’s tournament, it will only be the second time since 1966 that Portugal has made the final 8.
They can take some comfort from the fact, however, that the past two times they’ve won their group at the World Cup (1966 & 2002), they’ve gone on to make the semi-final.
Their opponents aren’t to be underestimated, though, with Switzerland coming back from a goal down against an impressive Serbian side to book their place in the Round of 16.
The Swiss will take confidence from the fact that they progressed from one of the toughest groups at this year’s World Cup. They also emerged triumphant from these two sides’ last meeting when Switzerland won 1 - 0 in the UEFA Nations League in June.
Both teams will feel they have a good chance to progress in this game, which is a good chance to go to extra time and penalties.