Croatia secured their place at the 2022 World Cup with a 1-0 win over Russia on Sunday, a late own goal from Fedor Kudryashov swinging the game in their favour after a hard-fought battle in boggy conditions in Split.
Finalists at the last World Cup in 2018, Croatia looked bound for the play-offs for much of Sunday’s game, as they toiled on a waterlogged pitch against a resolute Russian defence.
But Kudryashov’s error saw them snatch top spot from the visitors eight minutes from time and secure their passage to next year’s tournament in Qatar.
“It was a difficult match from the beginning because of the rain. We never gave up, we were patient and I think we won deservedly. We are the best team in this group,” Croatia captain Luka Modric was quoted as saying by the UEFA website.
An early header from Andrej Kramaric set the tone for a first half in which Croatia had the lion’s share of possession and piled on the pressure in search of an opener.
Marcelo Brozovic also shaved the bar with a long-range effort, before both he and Josip Juranovic forced saves from Russian keeper Matvey Safonov.
Safonov beat away another Kramaric header with a reflex save just after the break, before denying substitute Bruno Petkovic on the hour mark.
The conditions made it harder and harder for Croatia as the second half progressed, with the pitch becoming ever more boggy under the heavy rain.
The chances had all but dried up when Borna Sosa sent a hopeful ball into the box on 82 minutes.
Though under no pressure, Kudryashov struggled to control the ball as it skidded on the wet ground, and watched helplessly on as it bounced off his knee and inside the post.
While Croatia qualify automatically as Group H winners, Russia can still make it through via the play-offs.
Brazil defender Marcelo has been in court for driving with a suspended licence for the second time in seven years and speeding, a Madrid court revealed on Monday.
The high courts of justice in the Spanish capital said that the Real Madrid left-back had admitted to the offences after reportedly being clocked driving at 134 km/h (83.2mph) in a 120km/h zone in December.
He was subsequently found to be without a valid licence.
Marcelo was told to appear at a second hearing in March when sentencing could be handed down.
In March 2013 the 31-year-old, who has been at Real since 2007, was fined 6,000 euros ($6,492) for driving after his licence had been revoked.
Versatile defender Marcelo returned to the starting line-up and midfielder Fernandinho was handed his first World Cup start in four years on Friday for Brazil’s quarter-final clash with Belgium.
Marcelo was sidelined from Brazil’s 2-0 last-16 win over Mexico in Samara after suffering back spasms in a 2-0 win over Serbia.
But the 30-year-old Real Madrid player is fully fit, offering Brazil attacking options down the left flank for a game Belgium’s “Golden Generation” of players must win if they are to fulfil expectations of reaching the latter stages.
Coach Tite’s second change sees Fernandinho replace Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro, the Manchester City midfielder handed his first start in Russia.
It is also his first World Cup start since Brazil’s 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany in 2014 when he was replaced at half-time.
Belgium were ousted from the 2014 quarter-finals 1-0 by Argentina and after a 3-1 quarter-final defeat to Wales at Euro 2016, the Red Devils are desperate to go a step further.
But they face a Brazil side that is undefeated in their last 15 outings in all competitions, conceding just three goals in the process, including one in the group stages.
Coach Roberto Martinez has made two changes from the side that squeezed into the last eight with a last-gasp 3-2 win over Japan following an impressive group campaign in which they scored nine goals and conceded just two.
Martinez switched from a 3-4-2-1 formation to a 3-4-3. Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini was repaid for his efforts against Japan to partner Axel Witsel in the centre of midfield and Nacer Chadli, who scored the late winner against Japan, replaced Yannick Carrasco.
Belgium’s three-pronged attack will see Kevin De Bruyne and captain Eden Hazard provide support to front man Romelu Lukaku, who has scored four goals in Russia so far.
Starting line-ups for the World Cup quarter-final between Brazil and Belgium at Kazan Arena (kick-off: 1800 GMT):
Alisson; Fagner, Thiago Silva, Joao Miranda (capt), Marcelo; Paulinho, Fernandinho; Willian, Philippe Coutinho, Neymar; Gabriel Jesus
Coach: Tite (BRA)
Thibaut Courtois; Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen; Thomas Meunier, Marouane Fellaini, Axel Witsel, Nacer Chadli; Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard (capt)
Brazil eased into the World Cup knockout stages after defeating Serbia 2-0 here Wednesday, with superstar Neymar sparkling in a win which sets up a last 16 clash against Mexico.
Paulinho put Brazil ahead with a superb dinked finish on 36 minutes before Neymar swung in a cross for Thiago Silva to header the Selecao’s second goal with 22 minutes left in Moscow.
Having opened his Russia 2018 account with the second of Brazil’s two late goals in Friday’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica, Neymar was again impressive.
After the tearful emotion of Saint Petersburg, Neymar cut a more joyful figure after this win, blowing kisses to the crowd as the five-time champions celebrated.
As Group E winners, Brazil will now face Mexico in Samara on Monday, with group runners-up Switzerland taking on Sweden in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
In the pre-match build-up, Brazil coach Tite said Neymar alone cannot “shoulder the responsibility” for his team’s World Cup hopes.
However, the 26-year-old seemed content to carry Brazil’s attack, motoring through Serbia’s midfield and crashing an early shot just wide of the post.
The match at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium began at a ferocious tempo and Brazil left-back Marcelo was an early casualty, limping off after ten minutes to be replaced by Filipe Luis.
Neymar had the best chance of the opening half-hour when he forced Serbia goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic to palm his shot away.
Tempers frayed when Serbia midfielder Adem Ljajic scythed down Neymar, in full flight on the left flank, to earn a booking on 33 minutes.
Brazil conjured the opener from nothing when a beautifully lofted pass from Philippe Coutinho found Paulinho, who flicked the ball over Stojkovic’s reach on 36 minutes to make it 1-0 at the break.
Serbia repeatedly struggled to contain Brazil’s fleet-footed attack.
Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic was the next Serbian midfielder to be booked when he fouled Manchester City star Gabriel Jesus on 48 minutes.
Serbia’s brightest spell came with half an hour left, only to be let down by poor finishing.
Ljajic stumbled to take a return pass after a charging run into Brazil’s box and then fired over shortly after.
Then with his defence beaten, Brazil goalkeeper Alisson palmed a save straight at Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the Serbia forward could only head the ball back into the grateful arms of the Brazilian shot-stopper.
To cap Serbia’s frustrations, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic fired wide, then Mitrovic guided a powerful header straight at Alisson from a corner.
However, Brazil made sure of the win when Neymar swung in a free-kick and his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Thiago crashed home his header, unmarked at the near post, on 68 minutes.
With one eye on the last 16, Tite took off Countinho with ten minutes left while Neymar twice went close to scoring the Selecao’s third late on, but the Brazil coach can be happy with his star forward.
Brazil left-back Marcelo was forced off in the 10th minute of his side’s crucial World Cup Group E clash with Serbia in Moscow on Wednesday with an injury.
Visibly struggling, the Real Madrid defender was initially reluctant to leave the pitch, before being replaced by his Atletico Madrid counterpart Filipe Luis. Marcelo was wincing and holding his head in his hands.
The five-time champions later took a half-time lead courtesy of a goal from midfielder Paulinho.
A point would secure Brazil’s place in the last 16 as they bid to banish the memories of their 2014 semi-final humiliation on home soil at the hands of Germany.