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CHARLIE CHRISTIE: Samba spirit brings joy to Qatar

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Watching Brazil in their first knock out match at the Qatar World Cup on Monday evening really did restore my belief that football is still one of the most entertaining genres in life when played in that manner and with that pace and passion.

Qatar World Cup
Qatar World Cup

The way the South Americans, in their iconic gold, blue and white strip, dismantled South Korea in the opening 15 minutes was quite superb and is exactly what most of us want the game’s top tournament to encapsulate.

My affinity for the Brazilians probably dates back in time to footballing conversations with my late father who constantly waxed lyrical about the Brazil team in 1970 being the best football team he had ever seen.

I was too young to remember that World Cup but have since watched as much footage of the event that I could find and have found little to contradict my dad’s opinion.

Apart from the legendary Pele that side contained Jairzinho, Rivellino, Tostao, Gerson and Carlos Alberto – each one of whom were undoubtedly world class!

Indeed, I have lost count of the number of times I have watched the fourth Brazilian goal in the final against Italy where an incredible move ends with full back Alberto smashing a right footed shot past the Italian keeper in front of 107,000 fans in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium.

The current array of talent in the Brazilian squad now faces Luka Modric’s Croatian side who had goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic to thank for their penalty shootout win over Japan and, whilst Brazil will be strong favourites, they will also be aware of Croatia’s never say die attitude which got them to the final in 2018.

At 37, talisman Modric still has a lot to offer but I think this game may be a step too far for the ageing Croats and, with the mouth-watering potential of a Brazil versus Argentina semi final, I sincerely hope the team in gold shirts can prevail.

Meanwhile the much-vaunted English team line up against Didier Deschamps’ French side who also performed superbly in their round of 16 match last Sunday with Kylian Mbappe the star of the show against Poland.

There is little doubt that much of the English match planning prior to Saturday evening’s showdown will focus on Mbappe and how to limit the space in which the Paris St Germain frontman has to operate.

He has already shown that he can both go long and come short and whilst England have good defensive pace in the right back area, they will be desperate to avoid leaving Mbappe one on one too often.

This is undoubtedly England’s biggest challenge yet and the French will be the first team they have come up against who can counter-attack with genuine pace and power and turnovers in possession could prove crucial.

England have looked a threat going forward but can be vulnerable defensively and the expected deeper midfield pairing of Henderson and Rice will have a vital job to do when screening their back four.

I don’t expect there to be much in the game and set plays could be a defining factor but I’m taking ‘Les Bleus’ to edge a tight affair by the odd goal in three.

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