The Kings of Penalty, Croatia, Eliminated Brazil

croatia at FIFA
  • Neymar equaled Pele’s goalscoring record but was challenged by Bruno Petkovic
  • Croatia’s Dominik Livakovic’s stunning goal upsets the South Americans
  • The Europeans won their second consecutive semi-final
  • Croatia 1-1 Brazil (4-2 on penalties)
  • Goals: Brazil: Neymar (105+1) Croatia: Petkovic (117)

Croatia came from behind to finish third in the World Cup and ensure that Brazil’s wait for a fifth victory will reach 24 years, at least.

Neymar scored a superb goal late in the first half of extra time to look set to book a semi-final against the Netherlands or Argentina. But it is Croatia who are waiting to find out the winners of Friday’s quarter-finals again.

Bruno Petkovic equalized, firing a header into the net for Croatia’s first shot on target after 117 minutes. Brazil were behind in the eighth from the opening penalty shoot-out when Dominic Livakovic made exceptional saves from Rodrygo, Nikola Vlasic, Lovro Majer, Luka Modric and Mislav Orsic all against Croatia.

Key moment

Has there ever been a more cussed, resilient football team than the one that represents the four-and-a-half-million people of Croatia? It is unlikely. Twice in knockout matches at this World Cup, Zlatko Dalic’s team have recovered from going a goal down to force penalties and advance.

At Russia 2018, Croatia went behind in all three knockout matches before the final. Twice they recovered to win penalty shootouts and in the last four Modric and Co defeated England after extra-time.

Which means that when Marquinhos hits the head of the post – after Casemiro and Pedro have scored – it’s time for Croatia’s penalty kings to celebrate. It was 10-0 with three minutes left. In terms of objective effort, that is. Brazil had doubled their lead for Livakovic’s exceptional effort – but, ironically, beat the goalkeeper once.

Still, it looks like Neymar’s stunning goal to equal Pele’s international goalscoring record will see Brazil through to the semi-finals. Neymar was so frustrated waiting to happen, in the first extra time that he went down halfway to regain possession.

He continued to threaten with the change of his pass to Rodrygo, picking up speed to go to the second return ball, which was given by Lucas Paqueta. Suddenly, Neymar was in famous territory, starting with the whites of Livakovic’s eyes. Only this time, Livakovic, afraid of offending his opponent, refused to engage in a challenge. Neymar made himself comfortable as he passed the ball past Livakovic and slotted it into the net. Cue Beldam at Education City Stadium.

The festival looks like a job well done and that’s understandable. Croatia never troubled Alisson in Brazil’s goal. But after 117 minutes – three minutes after coming on for Marcelo Brozovic – Morsic went down the left to return the ball to Petkovic on the 18-yard line. Petkovic, whose last international goal came in September 2020, the goal, the ball kills Marquinhos to take it past Alisson and into the right post of the goalkeeper. Croatia, for the second game in a row and the fourth in six knockout rounds of the World Cup, was destined for the penalty kick – although it appeared that Livakovic forced Marquinhos back in what seemed like the final stretch of the game to catch the signal.

The Europeans, despite the lack of their goal attempts, showed themselves first as soldiers. Mario Pasalic is the one who triggers, lowers the ability to deliver and is afraid to see what happens when the cross invites. Josip Juranovic tried and missed a shot, then Ivan Perisic lost his composure. Livakovic’s first save was straightforward, earning an effort from Neymar, who couldn’t get the direction he needed from a good position. A few moments ago, the ever-impressive Josko Guardiol blocked Vinicius Junior’s weak effort after the striker latched on to Richarlison’s return pass. Livakovic was alert when Neymar’s free kick three minutes before half-time bounced off the wall and threatened to go the wrong way. Neymar didn’t do anything like the contact we were looking for with a corner kick that hit Guardiol just before the restart. Then it was Livakovic’s turn to really start getting his bearings. A low clearance fell for Vini Jr in front of goal but the 27-year-old made the save. Livakovic kept his cool as Neymar raced in after 55 minutes, standing tall to deny the striker.

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Paqueta’s volley into the box after nine minutes – but that’s where the midfielder’s magic began and ended as Livakovic parried another Brazil player through on goal. Livakovic reduced the corner to quickly provoke Neymar, forward past Rodrygo and Richarlison, in turn, freed their teammate in the penalty area.

Rodrygo cleared the ball for Paqueta to force Livakovic into safety at his feet with 10 minutes left in the last minute of the Antony rule, and where Raphinha since the 56th minute, tested Livakovic’s muscles with a long bounce. Livakovic’s handling was flawless, holding the ball to his chest.

Eder Militao attempted to swing at a ball in the box between times, but his attempt from 12 yards out was deflected wide. Up until the 13th minute of extra time, the traffic flow was unchanged. Petkovic was able to slide a pass to Brozovic because his high-left footwork was too deft for two confused defending bodies. The otherwise great midfielder wasn’t as confident and shot over the top.

We had no idea that the drama had just started.

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