Croatia came from a goal down to see off Canada 4-1 in Group F, as it took a step towards securing qualification to the Round of 16.
Canada had 21 shots including a missed penalty in its loss against Belgium, while Croatia drew with Morocco in its opening match.
After Morocco’s win against Belgium earlier in the day, a loss would have knocked Canada out of the tournament, while a loss for Croatia would have put the 2018 World Cup Finalists in jeopardy of not getting out of the group stages.
Croatia made one change to its opening match, with Marko Livaja coming in for Nikola Vlašić in the nation’s 4-3-3 shape.
Canada also made one change, also in attack, as Cyle Larin replaced Junior Hoilett in a 4-4-2 lineup.
The nation made a shock, shining start to the match, as Bayern Munich fullback Alphonso Davies scored Canada’s first-ever goal at a World Cup Finals.
He made a driving run into the box and got on the end of a Tajon Buchanan cross to head Canada into the lead after just 67 seconds to score the 11th goal of his international career.
The goal came from a goal kick from Milan Borjan, which evaded all of Croatia’s midfield. The cross came in from the right edge which landed right on the head of Davies, who used his pace to make the late run.
It was the fastest goal scored so far at this World Cup Finals.
Canada deployed Davies in a more central area in attack in midfield, as Laryea gave Canada its width from left fullback. Hutchison dropped deep in attack which gave the fullbacks the license to get forward.
The Canadians also relied on their height, as they utilised goal kicks or balls up the field to find their taller men, who knocked it down for a teammate or employed some hold-up play.
Croatia’s midfield three of Mateo Kovačić, Marcelo Brozović and Luka Modrić were unable to impose themselves early in the match but gradually grew their way into the half.
This showed as Croatia had a golden chance 22 minutes in, as Kovačić played a through ball for Livaja. He just got behind the Canada defence, but the ball was just too far out of reach to make any decent contact on the shot.
Croatia thought it had levelled the match 26 minutes in, as Andrej Kramarić finished after a clever passage of passing play involving Modrić, Brozović and Livaja, but the latter was flagged for offside in the buildup.
A physical Canadian team denied Croatia opportunity after opportunity. Buchanan not only did his work offensively, but also tracked back to help Canada stop many Croatian forays forward.
They continued to pile the pressure on Canada as the half neared its end, as Livaja was played in behind again. This time his attempt on target was saved by Borjan in the Canadian goal.
The pressure and weight of possession eventually told, as Kramarić switched from the right wing to the left and got on the end of a pass to him on his run in behind. He held his nerve in front of goal as he finished with his left foot from a tight angle, across Borjan into the bottom-right corner of the goal.
That goal came after 36 minutes and was a reward for the effort Croatia had put in to work their way back into the match.
Croatia found its way in front just eight minutes later as Kramarić, operating on the right-wing, set a ball through to Juranović. The fullback wrestled possession back in a scrap with the Canadian defenders as he ran centrally, before he played a ball to Livaja.
He utilised a short back lift to power the ball past Borjan at the near post.
Kramarić had time to line up a shot in the second minute of first-half stoppage time but lifted his shot over the crossbar.
Croatia was confident as centre-half, Joško Gvardiol, made a run in another breakaway into the penalty area as the half came to a close, Croatia with a 2-1 lead at half-time.
The midfield had grown into the match and dominated in the second half of that first stanza.
Canada looked to freshen up its squad at half-time, as Ismaël Koné and Jonathan Osorio came on for Stephen Eustáquio and Larin. They looked to strengthen the midfield as they switched to a 3-4-3 formation with the changes.
The changes almost worked to immediate effect, as Canada looked to work and recycle the ball around the midfield and front line, which led to Osorio having a shot from around 20 yards out. He watched as it sailed just past the left-hand post, just minutes into the second half.
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Croatia had a decent chance of its own after 51 minutes, as Borna Sosa floated a ball in which Ivan Perišić attacked, but it was palmed away by Borjan.
Just minutes later, Croatia had a chance to effectively wrap the match up and send Canada home from the World Cup. Modrić received a pass after making a run down the right wing; he played a pass in to Kramarić, whose right-footed shot was saved expertly by Borjan.
The match was back-and-forth as Canada sprung forward. Johnston played Osorio through, who passed it back to Buchanan and then Jonathan David at the top of the box, whose long-range effort was just tipped over the crossbar by Dominik Livaković.
Fast, fluid movement and football was evident by both sides as the pressure to find the next goal grew.
Evidence of that pressure, Borjan delivered a gift of a ball to Perišić minutes later, who was unable to punish the Canadian goalkeeper with his effort.
35 of the 63 goals scored to this point at the World Cup had come after the hour mark, so both sides knew plenty of work had to and could be done to secure a result.
That stat came to mean something in this contest, too, as another goal was scored.
Good midfield play from Croatia led to a ball being played to Perišić, who had made his way down the left wing. He stood up his marker in Junior Hoilett before delivering a cross with his right foot into the box.
His cross found Kramarić on the right wing, who controlled the ball with his right foot, then cut inside and finished decisively on his left foot into the bottom-left corner of the goal.
He had a chance to score his hat-trick from kickoff, as a ball was played across the box, but Kramarić could only manage a slight touch as it just evaded him.
His ability to play across the front line for Croatia put doubt in the Canadian defenders’ minds as he popped up when needed with the goals.
He became only the second Croatian player to score two goals in a World Cup Finals match as he was subbed off to the applause of the Croatian fans.
Perišić again was a handful for the Canadian defence, as he played a ball across the six yard box which was saved by Borjan, before Brozović’s effort on the follow-up was saved by the Canadian keeper again.
Hoilett had a strike from outside the box in stoppage time, but his shot flew just wide of the left-hand post.
In the 94th minute, Miller made a mistake from an attempted Bruno Petković pass, which set Mislav Oršić through on goal. He unselfishly played his pass across to Lovro Majer, who scored with a simple finish to make the score 4-1 to Croatia.
That was how the match finished, as Canada was knocked out of the World Cup with a match to play. The nation’s final match at this tournament is a battle with Morocco, who could progress to the Round of 16 with a win.
This win moved Croatia to the top of the group, ahead of Morocco, leaving a final matchday showdown with Belgium to decide who makes the Round of 16.
The tactical battle was intense in this match, with fluid play from both sides, but in the end experience beat physicality and drive.
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