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Now the battle really begins

By JAMES BOYLAN | China Daily | Updated: 2022-12-09 09:32
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Stage set for intriguing quarterfinal matchups as stakes rise at World Cup

And then there were eight... Croatia, Brazil, the Netherlands, Argentina, Morocco, Portugal, France and England remain from the 32 teams that kicked off the World Cup. The group stage and last 16 served up entertainment and drama in abundance, but the quarterfinals are where the real work starts. Here's a look at the mouth-watering matchups that await.

Croatia's Luka Modric (left) and Brazil's Neymar will battle for a place in the World Cup semifinals when their teams meet at Education City Stadium in Doha on Friday. Croatia was the runner-up behind France at the 2018 tournament, while Brazil has won the World Cup a record five times. [Photo/Agencies]

Croatia vs Brazil

Brazil let loose in a last-16 dismantling of South Korea to remind everyone why it was installed as the pre-tournament favorite. For anyone who bet on Tite's side, just as reassuring as Neymar's smooth return from injury was the team's ability to thrive without the services of Arsenal ace Gabriel Jesus, who will miss the remainder of the tournament with a knee injury. In a throwback to vintage Brazil sides, Tite's smiling assassins sliced their way through the Koreans with joyous precision, and then twisted the knife with some celebratory samba routines. Friday's clash against a street-smart Croatia team — the 2018 runner-up — is likely to be more chess than dance moves. "We still have many celebrations left, and hopefully we can keep scoring and dancing like this until the final," said Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior. Croatia midfielder Mateo Kovacic indicated his team will attempt to muscle Brazil out of their rhythm. "We are accustomed to very tough physical games in the Premier League and that's something that we want to show against Brazil," the Chelsea player said. "We want to show our technical quality too but we want to show our physical quality in every duel and in possession." That's easier said than done, however, and in Neymar, Richarlison, Raphinha and Vinicius Junior, the Selecao boast more than enough invention to crack the Croats, whose overreliance on the majestic Luka Modric grows more glaring by the match.

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