1500 BST, Sunday 3rd June, Anfield (Liverpool, England)
Anfield will welcome South American giants Brazil on Sunday as they entertain Croatia in what will be the penultimate, warm-up fixture for both sides before they head to Russia.
Both sides’ participation in summer tournament football is a regular occurrence, especially for the Brazilians.
Tite’s side were one of the first to book their place at this year’s FIFA World Cup, after qualifying in impressive style.
Throughout the 18-game campaign in South America’s CONMEBOL region, Brazil was only defeated once; a 2-0 defeat in the opening round of matches away at Chile.
Croatia, on the other hand, had a slightly more rigorous route to Russia. Finishing second in their UEFA region group behind Iceland, Zlatko Dalic’s side had to come through a home-and-away playoff with Greece.
With only two weeks to go until the World Cup gets underway, both teams will want to make sure they hit the ground running, and this fixture is a good test for them.
Preparation in both camps would have been done without key players; Brazil’s Roberto Firmino and Marcelo and Croatia’s Luka Modric all had their domestic seasons extended having been involved in the UEFA Champions League final last weekend.
The two sides last met in the 2014 World Cup’s opening fixture, with hosts Brazil winning an entertaining game, 3-1.
Brazil manager Tite has a near full-strength side to choose from, although may opt to rest Marcelo after joining up with the squad late.
Neymar is still missing for Brazil although he and his teammates are confident he will be fully fit to start in Russia after ramping up his rehabilitation.
Phillipe Coutinho will probably link up with ex-Premier League rivals Gabriel Jesus and Willian to form a potent attack.
With only two warm-up games ahead of the World Cup, Zlatko Dalic will be keen to have his team well drilled and gelled as fast as possible.
Similarly to Real Madrid teammate Marcelo, Luka Modric may well be rested for this first of two games after playing in Kyiv last Saturday.
Mario Mandzukic may well return up front and will look to get the better of Serie A rival, Alisson.
Key Battle: Fernandinho (Brazil) vs Ivan Rakitic (Croatia)
There is no doubting that Brazil have the superior edge going forward, with the plethora of talent at their disposal.
Defensively, the Brazilians will be confident of their ability to keep Mandzukic quiet, provided his service is restricted.
The Croatians have had an attractive, creative midfield for some time. The central pairing of Modric and Rakitic has made the side tick in recent years.
With Modric facing the prospect of having limited involvement in this one, the creative responsibility will lie with Barcelona man Rakitic.
Fernandinho will be tasked with doing the same job which he did brilliantly for Premier League champions Manchester City this season.
Shutting down Rakitic and limiting his ability to get on the ball and dictate play will be the key to keeping Croatia at bay.
Is Tite sure of his starting World Cup XI already?
Tite made an announcement back in February, confirming a group of 15 players already on the plane to Russia.
The early decision perhaps showed that he was already sure of what his best starting XI may be.
Marcelo aside, perhaps, the Brazilian boss may well field the same team that will start their first group game in Russia.
Will Gabriel Jesus fend off Roberto Firmino to hold on to the number nine shirt? Will Danilo take advantage of the absence of Dani Alves?
Can Croatia handle Brazil’s front three?
Brazil have been in incredible form and haven’t lost for a few days shy of a year – a 0-1 defeat to Argentina in a friendly.
In fact, Tite’s side have lost only two of their last 28 games.
Much of their success has been down to their ability to score goals at will, with ten in their last five. They’ve failed to score only three times in their last 15.
With Coutinho, Jesus and Willian in impressive form domestically, it is hard to see them not carrying their recent performances into the summer.
Prediction: Brazil 3-0 Croatia
With a front three and midfield capable of dismantling any defence in the world, Brazil will have too much for Croatia on Sunday.
Croatia will feel the effects of a tired Modric, should he play any part at all. Such an influential creator, he’s often relied upon to make things happen going forward.
With an attack that takes care of itself, Tite will be keen to ensure things are as tight defensively as they can be going into the World Cup – a clean sheet will be high on the priority list.
Will Croatia be able to hold off Brazil? Let us know below.
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