Canny Croatia use all their know-how to overcome young guns Canada in World Cup

Modric and Co show their experience to fight back from a goal down in 4-1 Group F victory

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Having battered Belgium but come away with nothing but reputation enhanced, Canada quickly set about rectifying the matter.

In the very next match, in the very first minute and a bit. Alphonso Davies grabbed it, thumping home a header to atone for his penalty miss against the world's No 2-ranked side.

In the process, he extended one of the most remarkable stories at this Fifa World Cup. From being born in refugee camp to escaping to Canada and eventually a Bundesliga and Champions League winner with Bayern Munich, to now, scorer of his adopted country’s first goal at a global finals.

Could it get any more memorable? Well, it arrived 1:07 minutes into Sunday’s Group F encounter with Croatia, the 2018 runners-up, elevating it to the quickest goal scored this whole week in Qatar.

In fact, it was the second-fastest notched in all the World Cups, second only to Mathias Jorgenson’s 57-second strike for Denmark four years ago. Who against? Yup, Croatia.

But, just like in Russia, the resolute Europeans turned it around. With captain Luka Modric pushed further forward – he conducted from deep in the goalless opener with Morocco – Zlatko Dalic’s side ultimately made their streetwise savvy tell.

Undeterred by Andrej Kamaric’s correctly disallowed effort, ruled out because Marko Livaja had strayed a fraction offside, Croatia hit back.

In a red-and-white chequered, eight-minute whirl before half-time, they scored twice. First, Ivan Perisic conjured a lovely reverse ball to Kamaric, who slotted his left-footed shot from the angle under Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan.

Then Josip Juranovic turned a little luck into a smart pass and the comeback was complete. He slipped in Livaja, who finished brilliantly low beyond Borjan at full stretch. The goal sparked wild celebrations on the Croatia bench, with most directing their jubilation towards their Canadian counterparts.

Maybe that was to be expected: in the post-match huddle against Belgium, Canada coach John Herdman used some choice words when sounding the rallying cry for Croatia.

Clearly, it struck a chord with Dalic and troops; the former Al Ain manager subsequently accused Canada of not respecting his typically respected side. So on Sunday, right after Livaja’s strike, tensions boiled over. Thankfully, they quickly dampened.

Canada, though, weren’t done fighting – figuratively – on the pitch. Right at the beginning of the second half, substitute Jonathan Osorio curled an effort inches past the post.

Soon thereafter, Borjan made an incredible save, denying Livaja a surely certain goal. Ditto Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic from precocious Lille forward Jonathan David.

Morocco 0 Croatia 0 - in pictures

But Croatia’s know-how told. Having weathered the early advance, they crept further ahead. With 20 minutes remaining, Perisic crossed to Kramaric at the back-post and, with one sublime touch to sweep inside his marker, with his next the Croat brushed home the ball. Croatia had their cushion.

They would not relinquish it; indeed, they extended. In additional time, Canada’s Kamal Miller miscontrolled, Croatia’s Mislav Orsic raced away, rolled in Lovro Majer and the result was flecked with a final flourish.

With the 4-1 win, Croatia moved joint top of the group heading into the final match day, while Canada, after successive defeats, will exit once this stage culminates next week.

In a tale as old as World Cup 2022 injury-time, the young upstarts were schooled by wiser heads. At their heart, Modric may be 37, but the Real Madrid maestro remains the integral cog in this battle-hardened machine.

And that’s what could carry this Croatia forward, perhaps not quite as far as four years ago, but deep into the tournament nonetheless. Unlike this hugely promising Canada, bright-eyed and contesting their country’s first World Cup in 36 years, they have been there. And, almost, done it.

Updated: November 27, 2022, 11:07 PM