Fri 22 Jun 2018, 09:52
Croatia hit 3 as number 10s grab headlines.
Few would have tipped Luka Modric to get the better of Lionel Messi in the battle of number 10s on Thursday evening (21 June), and on Friday (22 June) all eyes will be on Brazil’s number 10. (Brazil take on Costa Rica at 14:00 SA time - catch the game on SuperSport on your TV or on the DStv Now app on your mobile, desktop or tablet.)
Modric is an old-school playmaker, while Neymar’s characteristics are those of a number 10 of the PlayStation generation. Quick, sharp, nimble, skilful, Neymar is Brazil’s talisman in 2018, just as he was in 2014. Ahead of the clash with Costa Rica on Friday, Brazil’s coach Tite denied that his side is overly dependent on the PSG striker. Yet a knock in training does seem to be a cause for some concern despite Tite having Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus to call upon. Neymar, though, will be eager to redress the disappointment of 2014 and also avoid Argentina’s fate. Like their South American foes, Brazil drew their opening match and must beat Costa Rica to kindle their title bid. With Argentina’s near elimination following an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to Croatia, it seems that this won’t be Lionel Messi’s World Cup, and Friday will provide evidence on whether it may be Neymar’s.
Argentina body language said it all
From kickoff, it was obvious that Argentina’s coach Jorge Sampaoli was a worried man. By the time Croatia’s Ante Rebic had scored a sensational volley by capitalising on Argentina goalkeeper Willy Caballero’s amateurish error, Sampaoli was effectively having a nervous breakdown on live TV. And for good reason, because his decision to play 3-4-1-2 was disastrous. Messi and Sergio Aguero were adrift up front, the midfield bereft of ideas, and his defence jittery at best. Aguero cut a dejected figure after his substitution, Diego Maradona was in tears at the final whistle and Messi was crestfallen. Modric’s smile, meanwhile, seemed to stretch from Nizhny Novgorod to Zagreb, a contrast as powerful as Messi losing his temper soon after Modric had scored one of the goals of the tournament.
How good is Croatia?
Modric’s genius is well documented, and midfielder Ivan Rakitic was equally impressive, albeit in a more robust way. Mario Mandzukic is a quality target man and Dejan Lovren and company have a wealth of experience at the highest level. Croatia are almost certain to top Group D, which is a key milestone because whichever team finishes second is likely to face a dangerous France outfit in the last 16. On current form, Croatia looks like a quarter-final team at worst.
It’s Neymar’s time to shine, so watch his Brazil side take on Costa Rica at 14:00 on Friday by streaming the match on DStv Now on your mobile or your laptop while you're on the go. If you miss it live, watch eight-minute highlights on Catch Up, where you can also see the key moments of Croatia’s magnificent 3-0 win over Argentina.