BarcelonaCroatia continues to show the world the solidity of this generation: the team of this small country of just under four million inhabitants will play in the semi-finals of a World Cup. The reigning runner-up sent Neymar’s Brazil, the big favourites, home on penalties (1-1, 4-2). The Brazilian star, who had signed a goal, has once again ended up in a sea of tears defending the colors of the canarinha.
Until extra time, the Brazilians have not managed to beat Dominik Livakovic, one of the great heroes of the game. The Croatian goalkeeper put in a spectacular performance and became the star of the match and, once again, the emblem of the Croatian nation. Livakovic was key with his interventions to keep his team alive throughout the match. The Croats’ approach has been defensive, but that’s not why they’ve given up trying to have the ball. Croatia’s main goal was to prevent Brazil from getting ahead on the scoreboard, and between the unity of their lines and Livakovic’s great performance, Zlatko Dalic’s men were mission-successful for most of the game. With the match in control, the Croatians’ offensive actions came with Perisic’s finishes and the transitions led by their midfield, but they managed just one shot on target all game, while the Brazilians pressed the accelerator from the break.
The goalkeeper of Dinamo Zagreb stopped the shots of Antony, Richarlison, Vinícius and company, until finally, Brazil’s goal came from the boots of Neymar in the 105th minute, in extra time. After a spectacular combination play, the first that the Brazilians have managed to build successfully, Neymar has made a double wall to enter the Croatian area alone. Full-back Borna Sosa tried to bring down the skilful winger without any reluctance to take a penalty, but Neymar overcame him with a feint. Faced with the departure of Livakovic, as if Ney had in his head that it was impossible to beat the goalkeeper with a shot, he dribbled him to end up finishing with an empty net. A true work of art that lifted the PSG attacker to Olympus.
The match already seemed given and blessed with this target. Logic prevailed and the big favorite won. Alas, in the last fifteen minutes of extra time, Tite’s men retreated and gave the ball to Croatia. The Brazilians’ containment plan has gone badly for them. In the 117th minute, the Croatians managed to weave a great counter-attack which ended with Petkovic sending a shot into the back of the net after Marquinhos deflected it slightly. It was a draw. There were three minutes left in the game, plus two more. Brazil had one last chance, but Livakovic, once again, was a giant under the posts.
Croatia, infallible from the eleven meters
In the penalty shootout, the Croatian hero has put on his cape again. The goalkeeper of Dinamo Zagreb saved the Brazilians’ first penalty and the Croatians did not miss a single one. In the penalty to keep his team alive, Marquinhos sent it to the post. Neymar saw how, after scoring one of the best goals in the World Cup, he couldn’t even get to kick his penalty. Brazil are once again out of a semi-final, while Croatia are there for the second time in a row – the third in their history – and are already expecting an opponent. It will come from the winner of the duel between Leo Messi’s Argentina and Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands.