As day eight of the World Cup commenced, the mouthwatering Group F match between Spain and Germany looked pick of the bunch, but for Celtic fans they would keep a keen eye on proceedings in the earlier match in the group as 2018 finalists, Croatia, played the tournaments rookies, Canada.
One of the few Celtic players representing their countries at the World Cup, Josip Juranović started at right-back for the second consecutive match for Croatia after he played in the stalemate with Morocco. This wasn’t the only reason to attract the attention of hoops fans as Alastair Johnston started on the right side of a back three for Canada after being heavily linked with a January move to The Bhoys over the past few days, this would be most fans first or second chance of seeing the CF Montréal right-back play after he completed the full 90 against Belgium in Canada’s opening match.
As both teams looked to be settling into the match in the first two minutes, Cycle Larin picked up the ball in a dangerous area for Canada as he played it out wide to his club teammate, Tajon Buchanan who whipped in a delicious ball from the right which was met expertly by Alphonso Davies as he rose above Juranović.to give them the early lead and score Canada’s first ever World Cup goal.
In the opening 20 minutes Croatia were finding it difficult to get their key men on the ball and weren’t able to dictate the play in usual fashion. Canada’s energy and pressing was giving Croatia a real hard time of it and Juranović was feeling the full effects of the electrifying Davies down his side. Under pressure from the Bayern wide-man he made a few errors leading to Canada attacks. For Johnston in the opening 20 he nullified Ivan Perišić well and blocked his few crossing attempts.
As the game grew on Croatia got more and more settled, and in the 36th minute they had an equaliser. Perišić was one-on-one with Johnston on the edge of the box and played a brilliant reverse pass through the full-back’s legs, cutting the Canadians right open as Andrej Kramarić had time to compose himself before finishing past the Serbian born keeper with ease. This one would definitely count after Kramarić had a goal ruled out for offside earlier in the match.
With Croatia firmly in control of the match it looked like they’d being going in at the break level but after Juranović played a brilliant one-two with Kramarić on the half way line he was running at the Canada backline and when he initially looked to have lost it he poked it through to Marko Livaja and the Zagreb man finished excellently at the near post to give Croatia the lead. Juranović showed his worth in the built up of goal after a shaky start.
Croatia were in control of the match in the second half and all that was needed was a third goal to seal the three points. With 20 minutes left they found their two goal cushion. Perišić cut inside on to his right foot and crossed to the back-post finding Kramarić who looked like he was going to volley it with his right-foot but brought it back onto his left side before finishing into the far corner.
Canada were throwing everything at the Croatia goal in the dying stages knowing if they didn’t get back into the game they would be out going into their final match. Substitute, Bruno Petković played it forward and Johnston’s club teammate Kamal Miller missed the ball as it went through his legs leaving Mislav Oršić and Lovro Majer bearing down on the Canadian goal. Oršić unselfishly squared it to Majer giving him a empty net to get his first World Cup goal.
This leaves Croatia needing a point against Belgium in their final match or if they lose they will need to hope Canada can do them a favour by beating Morocco. For Canada in just their second World Cup finals they fall short of the last 16 but in four years they will be back to try again as co-hosts of the tournament.
The rumours of Johnston joining up with Ange’s side in January have brought many Celtic fans to the conclusion that Juranović will leave in January after being backed for a summer move by Fabrizjo Romano. If Juranović was to leave, he would leave having been a good servant for Celtic over the year and a half he has been here since Ange signed him for around £3m. Some of his best performances in the hoops have came against Rangers with the 3-0 game in February coming to mind.
If Johnston is to sign as it looks like he will, he looks like an able replacement for Juranović. He seems to be very comfortable on the ball and a good 1v1 defender. In Canada’s system we won’t get to see the best of his attacking expertise as part of a back three, but when he plays right-back or wing-back he has four goals and assists in 33 appearances in the MLS this season. He is a versatile defender and can play in multiple positions which is something heavily associated with an Ange signing.
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