The result of the match is already in. Ritinha, a shark incarcerated in some aquarium or other in Rio, has reportedly plumped for the contents of a food bottle with a Brazilian flag on it, cocking a snook at the one emblazoned with signifiers of Croatia. Congratulations to Brazil for making the semi-final!
Admittedly this directly contradicts the prediction made by Kent, a gibbon at Zagreb Zoo, who got tucked into the open Croatian food box wafted under his hungry face. What could it all mean? Not sure if any other species were consulted: for the record, Paul the Octopus died in 2010, while Triumph the Insult Comic Dog was unavailable.
Croatia make two changes to the starting XI named for the win over Japan. Borna Sosa returns from illness, replacing Borna Barisic, while forward Bruno Petkovic is sacrificed for additional midfield strength in Mario Pasalic.
Brazil name an unchanged line-up. First-choice left back Alex Sandro still hasn’t fully recovered from a hip injury and remains on the bench. Danilo will once again move across from right back to stand in, with Eder Militao covering in turn.
Croatia: Livakovic, Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa, Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic, Pasalic, Kramaric, Perisic.
Subs: Stanisic, Barisic, Erlic, Majer, Grbic, Vlasic, Livaja, Petkovic, Budimir, Orsic, Vida, Ivusic, Sutalo, Sucic, Jakic.
Brazil: Alisson, Eder Militao, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Danilo, Lucas Paqueta, Casemiro, Raphinha, Neymar, Vinicius Junior, Richarlison.
Subs: Alex Sandro, Fred, Weverton, Dani Alves, Fabinho, Bruno Guimaraes, Antony, Rodrygo, Everton Ribeiro, Ederson, Bremer, Pedro, Martinelli.
Referee: Michael Oliver (England).
Brazil have only met Croatia twice at the World Cup, and it’s not entirely clear what history teaches us. The bottom line is that the Seleção have won both matches, 1-0 in 2006, 3-1 in the opening match of 2014. But on both occasions the Croatians made the five-time champions work. Kaka’s curler decided the former match, but Dado Prso, Ivan Klasnic, Marko Babic and Igor Tudor all went close; eight years later, hosts Brazil required a controversial second-half penalty for some non-contact Dejan Lovren-near-Fred action to turn a game that looked set for a draw. No definitive answers there … though Brazil lost their first-ever World Cup game 2-1 to Yugoslavia in 1930, drew 1-1 with them in 1954 and 0-0 in 1974, and beat them 2-0 in a crunch match in 1950, Yugoslav captain Rajko Mitic missing the start after cracking his head open on an exposed girder in the still-half-finished Maracana. Do any of those distant memories of a former way of life help any? Almost certainly not.
Perhaps more up-to-date analysis will help us? In the round of 16, Croatia were more resilient than impressive in keeping up with a superior Japan, then holding their nerve better in a penalty shoot-out. Brazil by contrast were juggling the ball around against South Korea like it was the Pelé-Garrincha era all over again. However look at it another way: Croatia might be a superannuated bunch out for one last hurrah, but they were finalists last time round and know how to grind their way through a tournament. And while Brazil play like Brazil, they also have to be Brazil, with all the concomitant expectation, pressure, weight of history, etc. Hmm. Still nothing definitive.
So both teams will, in very different ways, and for very different reasons, fancy their chances this afternoon. Brazil are strong favourites to progress to a semi-final against the Netherlands or Argentina … but while their attack is flying, Alisson had to make three big saves on Monday night and Croatia may not let them get away with that sort of defensive profligacy again. It’s going to be a whole load of fun watching this unfold, and it could go to extra-time and penalty kicks. Kick off is at 3pm GMT, 6pm at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan. انه يحدث! It’s on!