Croatia fight back to win as Canada entertain again but exit World Cup early

Croatia 4-1 Canada: Alphonso Davies gave the Concacaf nation the lead but Andrej Kramaric hit a brace in response, either side of Marko Livaja’s fine finish, with Lovro Majer netting in stoppage time

Karl Matchett
Sunday 27 November 2022 18:48 GMT
World Cup day eight: Who's playing and what to expect

Another World Cup 2022 day, another World Cup moment of history. Just 90 seconds after kick-off, Canada had their first-ever goal at a finals, Alphonso Davies had his moment of redemption and the Qatar tournament had its earliest goal in any game.

The best side in Concacaf qualifying had shown their qualities in the opener against Belgium without earning reward – mostly due to Davies seeing a penalty saved, but with profligacy elsewhere too.

This time the fast start brought the best reward of all, but despite those opening scenes of jubilation and pride, promise and potential, Canada are out.

One of the stories of the tournament so far, their enterprising approach and clutch of high-energy, high-impact players have impressed many. But ultimately two defeats leave them falling short in Group F while Croatia, finalists last time and 4-1 winners here, need only avoid defeat next time to progress.

Both managers opted for changes to personnel after failing to win last time out; both opted for two centre-forwards on the team sheet, although employed in different ways.

Croatia brought in Marko Livaja to play through the middle, pushing Andrej Kramaric wider in the 4-3-3. Cyle Larin came into the Canada side, but as more of a partner to Jonathan David – a 4-4-2 out of possession for them, with Davies on the wing.

It took only seconds for that move to reap dividends, with Larin’s immaculate touch and spread of play freeing Tajon Buchanan, who crossed from deep to see Davies rise highest above Josip Juranovic and power a header in.

Genuinely emotional celebrations ensued.

Canada did not rest on their laurels, though they were aided by some questionable, to be kind, decision-making from Croatia’s back line –- the hapless Juranovic in particular.

The Europeans threatened intermittently but early on, either the end product did not match the build-up or vice versa. Mateo Kovacic’s winding run was only met by the slightest touch of a toe from striker Marko Livaja; shortly afterwards, Andrej Kramaric finished coolly into the bottom corner only to be denied by an offside earlier in the move.

Increasingly, one player from each side began to show their technical talent, athletic capacity and tactical diligence.

Buchanan, a 23-year-old with Club Brugge, was a one-man swarm down the right flank, covering at fullback and tracking runners but also dribbling at pace, providing an out-ball and linking beautifully with the forwards.

Kovacic, Chelsea’s Champions League-winning midfielder, brought the drive and invention which Croatia had lacked in their first game, beating players with the ball at his feet but then also unlocking the North Americans’ defence.

The No 8 continued to prove his team’s best route through the thirds and as Croatia increasingly seized control he was, somewhat inevitably, the one who started the all-important move to help turn the game on its head in the space of eight minutes.

Andrej Kramaric celebrates scoring Croatia’s equaliser
Andrej Kramaric celebrates scoring Croatia’s equaliser (AFP via Getty)

A reverse pass found Ivan Perisic; he in turn played a neat ball of his own and Kramaric finished brilliantly with his left foot into the far bottom corner – this time with no offside flag to deny him.

Then, minutes before the break, a tackle bounced kindly the way of Livaja and he drilled home a fierce, low strike, justifying Zlatko Dalic’s decision to chop and change.

Given Morocco’s earlier victory over Belgium, the half-time team talk would have been routine for John Herdman. Canada had to find a way to rescue at least a point, with a double sub his response.

One of those, Jonathan Osorio, almost equalised with a rasper past the post within minutes, though Kramaric should have ended the contest just before the hour mark, only for Milan Borjan to palm away his close-range shot.

The game started to look increasingly stretched and, as against Belgium, Canada tired and stopped pressing as intently after the hour mark – the midfield passing from the Europeans continued to exploit the resultant gaps.

Alphonso Davies reacts to scoring Canada’s goal in the second minute
Alphonso Davies reacts to scoring Canada’s goal in the second minute (Getty)

Considering some of the performances across the different World Cup groups from teams who have been poor yet remain in the running for a last-16 spot, Canada will feel hard done by.

To their credit, they continued to push forward and try to find a way back into the game, and further into the World Cup, but they rarely fashioned a clear opening either before or after Kramaric finally wrapped up matters, finding the time and space in the box to bring the ball down and calmly side-foot into the bottom corner with 20 minutes still to play. Lovro Majer scored another four minutes into stoppage time to rub salt into the wounds.

Ultimately, an appearance at the World Cup, especially after 36 years of waiting, is about moments, memories and emotions. Canada have theirs – their real and indelible moment of progression on the world stage. Croatia have a long way to go to match their own finest and most recent memories, but this keeps them on track to at least have the chance.

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