Croatia beat Brazil 4-2 on penalties in a tough fixture.
Brazil have only met Croatia twice at the World Cup, and history taught us what to expect today. While Brazil won both matches, 1-0 in 2006, 3-1 in the opening match of 2014, on both occasions the Croatians made the five-time champions work.
It is also interesting to note that Brazil have not met them in the knockout rounds. In fact, in the past few world cups, Brazil have succumbed to all European opposition they have faced in the knockout stages.
Perhaps more up-to-date analysis will help us? In the round of 16 this year, Croatia were more resilient than impressive in keeping up with a superior Japan, holding their nerve better in a penalty shootout.
Brazil by contrast were juggling the ball around against South Korea like it was the Pelé-Garrincha era all over again. However, look at it another way: Croatia might be a superannuated bunch out for one last hurrah, but they were finalists last time round and know how to grind their way through a tournament. And while Brazil play like Brazil, they also have to be Brazil, with all the concomitant expectation, pressure and weight of history that comes with being who they are.
Brazilian attacks frustrated
You could have guessed how the game would have went from the lineup. Brazil lined up four attack minded players and Paqueta, while Croatia fielded three of the best workhorse midfielders. It was Brazil attacking and Croatia counterattacking, with most of the possession going to the Croatians. But rightfully, the man of the hour was Livakovic, whose crucial saves were key to Croatia’s success.
In the opening minutes, Brazil passed it around the back, though they were getting severely hassled by the Croatian press; a supposedly old and knackered Croatia side.
By half time there were only few chances, though none troubling Alisson or Livakovic. With the game drawn, the 2018 finalists were seemingly much happier than the five-time champions.
Better, but still no luck
The second half saw better attacking bursts from Brazil.
Richarlison spun elegantly on a sixpence down the inside-left channel, and out of nothing, Brazil were suddenly dangerously on the attack. He slid Neymar into the box; Neymar shot to the left-hand corner of the six-yard box, but couldn’t force the ball past Livakovic.
Lovren and Gvardiol confused each other on the edge of the Croatia box, allowing Paqueta to nip in between them. Paqueta was suddenly one on one with Livakovic, but yet again the Croatia keeper proved unbeatable; a block for a corner that leads to nothing.
And then again, Rodrygo and Richarlison combined briskly down the inside-left channel before releasing Neymar. Brazil’s biggest star entered the box, but yet again couldn’t beat Livakovic, albeit from a tight angle.
After the game paused for a full time draw, extra time would see Croatia’s best chance. Kovacic dribbled hard down the inside-left channel but ran into Militao.
Brazil attempted to counter, but Neymar was tackled by Lovren. Modric then sent Croatia off on the counter, and Petkovic dribbled into the box from the left. He rolled across to Brozovic, teeing him up on the edge of the D. A huge chance, but Brozovic blazed the ball wildly over the bar.
The pain of the miss would be compounded as Neymar scored at the end of the first half of extra time. Never mind dropping deep to start the move. Never mind executing two one-twos en route to breaking into the box. It was the spectacular finish, straining every sinew to brush off Sosa, rounding the keeper Livakovic, and having the presence of mind to lift his shot, with Sosa sliding along the line in a desperate attempt to block what will certainly remain one of the best goals of the tournament.
The second half of extra time saw a more imposing Croatian side pressing harder and passing through the lines faster. Their efforts would turn to fruition as they would score at the end of extra time.
Orsic tore down the left, sent into space by Modric. He reached the edge of the Brazil box and rolled infield for Petkovic, who shot first time. A slight deflection sends the ball whistling into the bottom left. Alisson can’t get there in time.
And with that, the game went to penalties.
Vlasic was up first. He sent it down the middle, into the roof of the net. 1-0 Croatia.
Rodrygo took an elongated run-up and hit a poor effort towards the bottom right. Livakovic saves; 1-0 Croatia.
Majer slammed down the middle, sending Alisson to his right. 2-0 Croatia
Huge pressure on Casemiro … who belted an unstoppable penalty into the bottom left. Livakovic goes the right way, but can’t get anywhere near it, as the ball rippled the inside side netting. 2-1 Croatia
Modric stroked a lovely penalty into the bottom left, sending Alisson the wrong way. 3-1 Croatia.
Pedro walks up, and he doesn’t look confident. But he is! He stuttered, sent Livakovic to the right, and clips into the left. This is just his fourth cap. 3-2 Croatia.
Orsic fired a forensic penalty into the bottom left. Alisson went the correct way, but again couldn’t reach a perfectly placed effort. 4-2 Croatia.
Marquinhos slammed his penalty off the base of the left-hand post. Still 4-2 Croatia.
And so, Croatia defeat Brazil, make it to the last four and ensure that Brazil’s fate against European opposition is still intact. It was well deserved, and they will meet the winners of Argentina and Netherlands in the semi-final.