If you seen Niko Kovac’s comments postgame from the penalty decision that the Japanese referee gave to Fred’s “theatrics” in the box, you’ll obviously know his stance on the call, referencing how the sport might as well adopt NBA tactics in terms of embellishment and his overall disgust with the decision. Look it was a bad call and one that Croatia can hold up and say “SEE! IF THIS DIDN’T HAPPEN, WE GET A DRAW IN THIS GAME AND WE REALLY GIVE OURSELVES A CHANCE TO MAKE IT TO THE KNOCKOUT STAGE!!!!” .
Croatia certainly did themselves justice even with the statistical disparity that Brazil exhibited, with their early attacks coming from Olic and Perisic on the wings and Olic in particular during Croatia’s beginning furry. In the end that won’t provide Croatia with anything but perhaps more anger and frustration over the penalty call. Brazil themselves played in a manner that was very reminiscent of their confederation cup performance. Lots of tempo and athleticism, with a heavy reliance on Neymar’s dashing runs. It wasn’t a classic performance by the Seleção Brasileira but it was enough on this night.
The Brilliance of Oscar:
Had you taken a trip down Twitter, you would’ve seen numerous accounts singing the praises of Brazil’s #10. I’ve always personally had such a fascination with Oscar. He’s always been part as an attacking midfield under both Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho as the #10 behind the striker. He’s been a player who’s displayed the sort of stereotypical flair that one associates with Brazil that we come to know when he’s played as a #10, displaying that part of his game during the earlier parts of the Premier League season for Chelsea.
What separates him from other #10’s is his defensive acumen. Simply put, this man knows how to tackle. A brilliant defensive player for an attacking midfield. He plays as if he’s a box to box midfielder along the likes of a much slender Yaya Toure being shoved into a position he’s made work with. He was 4/6 on tackles, completed 7 of 11 take ons and was a menace whenever Croatia tried to counter attack in the second half:
He drifted to the right to link up with his teammates, played centrally alongside Paulinho and Luis Gustavo at times and he contributed a goal and an assist to boot.
This sounds like a total man crush on Oscar and truth be told, you’re right. I personally believe his future is a box to box midfield if his career plateau’s as a pure CAM, where he could be an even better player than he currently is (which is very good for what’s it’s worth).
Deployment of Modric/Rakitic
Niko Kovac has only been the manager of the Croatian national side for only a select number of games. He was tasked with getting Croatia to the World Cup, which he did through the playoff versus Iceland. He changed his tactics from a 4-5-1 to a more steady 4-2-3-1 with Modric and Rakitic playing as pseudo midfielders. It worked vs Iceland as Modric and Rakitic lead way for Kovacic to make runs and ultimately doom the little engine that thought it could. Against Brazil, Croatia did the same thing with Modric and Rakitic happily trying long balls to Olic and Srna to tackle Brazil’s tempo setting pressure:
Towards the end of the match did we see Modric and/or Rakitic have the space to move up in the field and have a chance to set footing. That though gets more to the idea of game states in sports like hockey and football where trailing and leading have different effects on the psychology of teams and how they attack. In hockey, it’s been best known by statisticians and analytics that the best way to project a team’s abilities is to take their performance at a score close state (here’s a glossary if you’re interested).
All of that is to say that I don’t put much into what happened with Croatia in the last 10-15 minutes of the match, and I wouldn’t put stock into Modric and Rakitic’s more advanced position in that same time span. That could change though and Mandzukic’s return for their second game could open for the Kovacic/Rakitic/Modric trio to have more space in the midfield. Brazil did do a heady job of making Croatia very restricted for the majority of the match, which may have played a part in Modric and Rakitic’s deployment.
Something that makes Brazil a bit different from other South American teams in the past is their pace. It’s the not the pace itself cause many if not all South American teams like to carry a bit of chaos into their tactical mindset, but Brazil have it a bit different with Columbia perhaps being their doppelganger. Both want to make it an athletic contest more so than an actual football match. Both obviously have very good/great talent on their squad but it’s a test of resolve in many ways relative to actual talent and technical ability.
When you play Chile, you have to be concerned with having to contain and not be sucked into an all out pitch to pitch matchup. Almost like when the Phoenix Suns from 2005-2010 almost dared you to not play an up and down matchup. There’s obviously athleticism behind it with the way they press but playing Brazil just feels more exhausting. They have a number of incredible athletes including Hulk, who I’m not sure if he’s actually a footballer but he’s a chiselled piece of something. They tackle, they’re fast, they are very reliant on turning the corner off of a retrieved ball in the midfield. It is exhausting to play Brazil, and Croatia found that out. Neymar was great in that department, with his first goal a perfect example and an illustration of Oscar’s future as a central midfielder:
This isn’t your Joga Bonito’s Brazil of yesteryears. Hell it’s not even the Brazil side from 2002 that featured the attacking trifecta of Rivaldo/Ronaldo/Ronaldinho. This more resembles Dunga’s 2010 side. Hard, tough, enough talent to bring about memories of previous Brazilian sides and extremely athletic with Neymar the cherry on top with his generational talent he exhibits and his ridiculous goal output he’s produced internationally.
Croatia will rightfully feel aggrieved to not come away with a huge point vs Brazil that could’ve all but sealed their progress into the round of 16. Instead they’ll have to push on with their matchup versus Cameroon. Meanwhile Brazil displayed both their limitations (heavy reliance on Neymar’s talent and possible production from Hulk and Fred) and their strengths (dictating tempo and Oscar’s all around play). For a game written off as an easy win for Brazil, it was anything but that. Croatia showed that even with a lack of midfield attack from Kovacic/Modric/Rakitic, they can survive and find other resources, with Mandzukic’s return helping substantially. We’re officially underway for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and holy is crap is football fun or what????