Wed, 08 Feb 2023

O rei is ailing in Brazil but his heirs pay homage with a regal display while the Japanese industrialise the penalty complex against Croatia.

Pressures

Brazil have won the World Cup a record five times in the 92-year history of the event. The only nations close to them on four are Italy, who never made it to Qatar and Germany, who made it to Qatar and quickly undid themselves. Brazil teams have played in the shadow of the 1970 World Cup extravaganza led by Pele. That vintage took the crown in a way that will never be repeated because it is of another time. Pele, now 82, is ill in hospital with colon cancel. At the end of a 4-1 destruction of South Korea, the current crop unfurled a banner for their king with a picture of him from that glorious campaign 52 years ago. It showed him celebrating the goal - Brazil's 100th in World Cup tournaments - that put Brazil 1-0 up in the final against Italy. O rei may not live for much longer but his legacy will be eternal.

Return

Neymar is a couple of goals away from surpassing Pele as Brazil's top scorer. Pele bagged 77 goals from 91 caps. Neymar is on 76 from 123 games. The Paris Saint-Germain striker's latest goal came from a penalty. Rather fun it was too. In the prelude to the spot kick, the South Korea goalkeeper Kim Seung Gyu was moving from side to side and flapping his arms as a distraction. Neymar strolled up and slotted the ball low to the left. The goalie didn't even move.

New look

One goalie who did move was Croatia's Dominik Livakovic. He saved three penalties in the shootout to help Croatia advance to the last eight for the second tournament on the trot. The match against Japan at the Al Janoub Stadium finished 1-1 after extra-time and Croatia will take on Brazil on Day 20 at the Education City Stadium. Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic paid fulsome praise to his hero between the sticks. "On Sunday we practiced penalties in training," he cooed. "And in the match Dominik made several important saves. I trusted in him, he filled me with confidence." Yes, but can he do it on a rainy night in Stoke?

Industrial penalty complex

Well, at least Japanese football bosses know what they need to get their academy kids doing. "The players showed a new era of Japanese football," said Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu after the shootout defeat concluded a campaign which registered victories over Germany and Spain. "And they should use this feeling of being upset to try to win next time." Takumi Minamino, Kaoru Mitoma and skipper Maya Yoshida all failed to beat the Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic. But it's going to leave marks. Scars even. Perhaps a deep searing pain in the nation's footballing soul. But, hey lads, Gareth Southgate missed his spot kick against Germany in the semis at Euro 96. And look what's become of him.

Fighting talk

Back in the group stages, Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic upbraided the Canada boss John Herdman for his potty mouth as he tried to energise his side for their clash against Croatia. Dalic came over all puritanic. The review, never shy sensing a chance to be sententious, raised an eyebrow when Dalic considered his side's next opponents Brazil. "We shall not surrender," he cheered. "We will keep fighting to achieve our dream. This generation of players is a resilient generation, it does not give up and they reflect the spirit of the Croatian people who have been through so much pain. The Croatian national team brings so much pride and joy to our people. We give them faith in a better tomorrow." Swearing allegiance, clearly a different thing then.

Originally published on RFI

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