The chance to build on a record number of World Cup wins is no doubt all the motivation that tournament favorite Brazil and manager Tite need this winter in Qatar as A Seleçao have busted through to the quarterfinals and come off the back of arguably the best display of any participant nation in the first half of the tournament.
Led by Neymar, who has to equal and surpass the legendary Pelé and become Brazil’s all-time leading goalscorer, the South American giants will certainly expect to at least reach the semi-finals but will now be tasked with coming up against the tournament know-how of Croatia and their veteran core of international stars.
That same familiarity in navigating the tournament field in Russia four years ago en route to the final could prove decisive once again for Zlatko Dalić's men, and though they needed to rely on a penalty shootout win against neutral fan-favorite Japan in the round of 16 while also failing to top Group F, sometimes nations need to gain steam before being the best versions of themselves.
With this in mind, 101 Great Goals takes a look at the best-combined XI from both nations.
Combined XI (4-2-3-1)
- Alisson (GK): This was a toss-up given how strong Dominik Livaković has looked in goal at times for Croatia while also coming up big in the shootout win over Japan, but Alisson has laid down the gauntlet this winter to stake his claim as the world’s best goalkeeper.
- Éder Militão (RB): Deputizing at right-back in the tournament and away from his preferred role in the center of defense, Militão has proven capable throughout. Certainly, if nothing else, he has been immeasurably better than Josip Juranović.
- Thiago Silva (CB): His form for Chelsea across the last two seasons has clearly been no fluke as the veteran center-back has rolled back time with his performances for Brazil this winter, proving to be as efficient as ever with his distribution as well.
- Joško Gvardiol (CB): Already billed as one of the brightest young defenders in Europe, Gvardiol has been superb in Qatar for Croatia and is now the subject of increased interest from some top dogs around Europe on the back of his appearances.
- Borna Sosa (LB): One of the more unheralded left-backs on the continent, often because he still plies his trade with VfB Stuttgart, but Sosa has offered a very good blend of creativity and a credible attacking outlet while looking improved in defense.
- Casemiro (CM): Vital for Brazil before the tournament and remains as such during their current run this winter. Adding another goal to his CV has not hurt him at all as the Manchester United holding midfielder has looked like probably the best shield in Qatar.
- Lucas Paquetá (CM): His move to West Ham United in the summer had many questioning if his career would suffer but he has looked just as good as he did in his Lyon days for Brazil at the World Cup and scored a fantastic goal as well.
- Neymar (CAM): Being deployed as a mobile 10 rather than on the flank continues to suit Neymar here as he can be in the center of the action under Tite. Sublime on the ball as always, his influence on the team was unquestioned after the uptick against Switzerland.
- Vinícius Júnior (RW): Shifted to the right in our XI to make way for Ivan Perišić, Vini Jr. has looked every bit the same player as he has for Real Madrid with his ability to be direct and effective on the ball while maintaining a direct threat on the scoresheet.
- Ivan Perišić (LW): Maybe the only true bright spot in attack for Croatia this tournament, the Tottenham man has looked good in familiar territory as a left-winger rather than at wing-back while remaining just as vitally creative regarding the service he provides.
- Richarlison (CF): Three goals in Qatar is hard to argue for a player who continues to peform in a Brazil shirt despite his overall struggles since moving to Tottenham in the summer. Justifiably viewed as first-choice under Tite on the back of his efforts.