Resilient Croatia upsets high flying Brazil
Dominik Livaković was once again Croatia’s hero as they stunned five-time winners Brazil in the FIFA World Cup (WC) Quarter-Finals. The game had finished 1-1 after 120 minutes thanks to Bruno Petković cancelling out Neymar’s earlier strike, and Livaković, who had made numerous saves during regular play, then saved a penalty, while Marquinhos rattled the post.
The opening exchanges were tight, which came as no surprise given Croatia had conceded just two goals en route to the quarter-finals. There was a promising opening for Vinícius Júnior, although that was comfortably saved, while the best chance of the first half fell to Neymar, with a smart move ending in the Paris Saint-Germain forward firing a tame effort too close to Livaković.Zlatko Dalić’s side lacked fluency in the final third as they struggled to break through an ageing but obdurate Brazil defence.
Apart from Josip Juranović cutting inside and wildly lashing over from outside the box, the Croatians barely got near Alisson’s goal in a half which was largely played out in midfield.The Seleção played with more intent at the start of the second half, as Joško Gvardiol nearly stabbed Éder Militão’s cross into his own net immediately after the restart.
However, Livaković came to his rescue, before thwarting Neymar at his near post and making a save from point-blank range to deny Lucas Paquetá.Brazil were seemingly the only team trying to win it in 90 minutes, as Croatia - who had gone to ET in their last four WC knock-out matches (excluding the 2018 final) - struggled to get out of their own half. Livaković, their Round-of-16 hero when making three saves in a penalty shoot-out, kept his side in it, making further stops from Neymar and Paquetá.
An additional 30 minutes was required to separate the two sides, but even then the tempo of the game did not change as Tite’s side continued to dominate without reward. Marcelo Brozović wasted a rare chance at the other end after terrific work from Petković, and he was made to pay as Neymar finally broke the deadlock.
In added time of the first half of ET, Brazil’s talisman exchanged a delightful one-two with Paquetá before rounding Livaković and lifting the ball into the roof of the net.Dalić threw on numerous attacking players to try and rescue a goal for Croatia, and with time running out, they found an equaliser against the run of play with their only shot on target when Petković’s strike deflected out of Alisson’s reach and into the back of the net.
There was still time for one more twist too, as Livaković made another terrific save from Casemiro in injury time, forcing another penalty shoot-out.Rodrygo had Brazil’s first spot-kick saved, and they faced an uphill battle from there. With Neymar yet to take, Marquinhos stepped up needing to score to save Brazil’s WC dream, only for the defender to strike the post. Croatia go through to face either the Netherlands or Argentina in the semi-finals, while Brazil lose in the quarter-finals for the fourth time in the last five WCs.