By Matias Grez, CNN
Vinícius Jr. fielded probing questions from reporters on the pressure Brazil is feeling as the favorite in Qatar and what some pundits perceived as disrespect towards opponents following the Seleção’s dance moves against South Korea, but he was finally caught off guard in the press conference when a stray cat leapt onto the table in front of him.
Brazil, too, finally began to purr in its round of 16 match against South Korea, dismantling its opponent in a four-goal blitz in the first half to put the remaining teams in the World Cup on notice.
It was a performance that had everything and encapsulated the attacking verve and flair that fans have come to associate with Brazil’s joga bonito over the years.
The team was yet to put on a display like that in Qatar, with Tite’s Brazil known more for its pragmatism than panache, but so impressed was the usually stern head coach with what he had seen, the players even convinced him to join in with Richarlison’s ‘pigeon dance’ celebration after the third goal.
“I try to adapt to the characteristics of the players,” Tite told reporters after the match, according to Reuters. “They are very young and I try to adapt a bit to their language, and part of their language is dancing.”
Brazil’s choreographed dances have been a large part of what has made the national team so loved by football fans around the world, but it drew criticism from some who described it as disrespectful to South Korea.
“Sure, some love to complain when they see other people’s happiness and we Brazilians are a joyful people, so it will always bother,” Vinícius told reporters, per Reuters. “The goal is the most important moment in football. In a World Cup, it is even more important, so it’s a moment of joy not only for us players, but for our entire country.
“We still have many celebrations ready, so we need to keep playing better, winning games and stay joyful in the process. We need to stay calm and focus because there are more people with us than against us.”
Brazil was also boosted by the return of Neymar and Danilo for the match against Korea, with both of them coming through that matched unscathed and looking as sharp as they did in the group stages.
‘Brazil is the favorite’
The mastermind behind Croatia’s recent World Cup success is Zlatko Dalić, who shocked the world by leading his team to the final in Russia four years ago.
Just as they were in at Russia 2018, this Croatia side is not pleasant to watch, but the players are battle-hardened and their pragmatic style of football has served the team well.
Four of Croatia’s last five World Cup knockout games — the 2018 final is the lone exception — have gone to extra time and three of the five have gone to penalties, with Croatia winning all three.
It is a remarkable record which speaks to the belief, experience and tenacity that this team possesses, characteristics Dalić knows his team will need to show in abundance against Brazil on Friday.
“Brazil is the favorite, let’s face it,” Dalić told reporters, per Reuters. “Brazil is the most powerful and the best national team at the World Cup. What I’ve seen so far, when you take a look at their selection of players, their quality, skills and value, then it is indeed terrifying.
“I think we have a great exam ahead of us, a tough task against the team which plays great soccer with so many good, quality and fast players. Brazil have self-confidence, a splendid atmosphere in the team, which is visible, as well as top players. However, we will not give in. I think we have nothing to fear.
“We need to enter the match with much faith, self-confidence and looking for our chances, enjoy the occasion of playing Brazil, that’s it. [It’s] too early, if only it were the final. It is a great team, but I believe that we can challenge them, we need to be smart. The match is not 50-50, but we are also not outsiders.”
This is likely the last World Cup for several players in this aging group, including 37-year Luka Modrić who has been off the pace and off his previous best for much of the tournament in Qatar.
However, Croatia seems to have unearthed a couple of younger talents, specifically the brilliant Joško Gvardiol who has been a revelation and one of this World Cup’s standout defenders, that could help the national team compete for years to come.
When and where
Croatia vs. Brazil: 10 a.m. ET at Education City Stadium
How to watch
US: Fox Sports
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC
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