Croatia stunned five-time world champions Brazil with a dramatic 4-2 penalty shootout win at the Education City Stadium to book a place in the World Cup semi-finals.
Brazil looked to be labouring to an extra-time win over their stubborn opponents thanks to a moment of magic from forward Neymar, who wrote himself into Brazilian folklore by drawing level on 77 international goals with one of the nation’s all-time greats Pele.
Croatia probed, pragmatically, throughout while restricting and stifling Brazil’s usual rhythm before succumbing to Neymar’s brilliance in the first half of extra-time – it was very nearly checkmate.
However, there was a late twist in the enchanting tale when Bruno Petkovic latched onto Mislav Orsic’s cross, benefitting from a cruel Marquinhos deflection which wrong-footed Alisson, to net the latest equalising goal scored in a World Cup game, taking the quarter-final to penalties.
Croatia, who needed two shootouts and an extra-time win to reach the final in 2018, kept their composure as Brazil’s Marquinhos and Rodrygo failed to convert, while Nikola Vlasic, Lovro Majer, Luka Modric and Orsic completed a perfect set of spot-kicks, ensuring progression to the last four of the tournament. “We eliminated the biggest favourites,” manager Zlatko Dalic said afterwards.
“It feels like a nightmare,” Neymar comparatively reflected.
Croatia have now reached at least the semi-finals on all three occasions they have made it safely out of the World Cup group stage (1998, 2018 and 2022).
They will face Argentina, who defeated the Netherlands on penalties, for a place in the final. The winner of the first quarter-final match at both the 2014 and 2018 editions of the World Cup went on to win the tournament – could that be a telling omen for the 2018 runners-up?
Moments of the match…
- 13th min: Perisic fires warning shot after good work from Pasalic
- 21st min: Vinicius Jnr fires straight at Livakovic
- 49th min: Gvardiol blocks from Neymar, producing save from Livakovic
- 49th min: Juranovic handball claims waved away
- 55th min: Neymar fed by Richarlison but denied by Livakovic
- 66th min: Paqueta’s side-foot effort is rebuffed
- 103rd min: Brozovic fires tired strike over crossbar
- 105+1 min: Neymar breaks deadlock in style
- 117th min: Petkovic rifles dramatic leveller
How Croatia foiled the favourites
Late in the second half, with the score locked at 0-0, Brazil head coach Tite paced the touchline cautiously, looking pensive and concerned. His consternation was altogether justified.
Brazil entered this match with the same status and expectation they began the tournament with – firm favourites. A casual start to the game planted a small seed of doubt, with Croatia operating in a typically stubborn and mulish manner, but very few would have predicted the ensuing drama.
The five-time world champions’ odds had continued to shorten as the tournament progressed, but suddenly they find themselves eliminated – now exiting from four of their last five World Cup quarter-finals.
- Tite named an unchanged line-up from the round of 16, with first-choice left-back Alex Sandro on the bench, having not fully recovered from injury.
- Zlatko Dalic made two changes; Borna Sosa returned, having missed out against Japan with illness, while forward Bruno Petkovic gave way to Mario Pasalic to strengthen the midfield.
Their particularly impressive show of flair and finesse, on display in spades against South Korea in their round-of-16 tie, had all but deserted them until Neymar sparked into life in extra-time.
Brazil’s frustration was finally channeled into positive play by their chief creative catalyst, as Neymar pierced through the heart of Croatia’s otherwise sturdy defensive line, playing a neat one-two with Lucas Paqueta before dancing around the goalkeeper and lashing into the roof of the net – no samba, but still plenty of celebration.
Enter Croatia’s talisman Modric, making his 160th international appearance in a career which has spanned 16 years. There must be something in the water in the Adriatic, because after coming through a gruelling last-16 tie against Japan on penalties, the plucky Europeans were determined to roll the dice once again.
Modric waited until the 117th minute to initiate a rare Croatia attack, finding Orsic on the move, who in turn fed Petkovic. The substitute was unmarked but failed to connect properly with the strike, profiting from a fortuitous nick off Marquinhos. Croatia are the first side on record (since 1966) to score with their first shot on target, when it arrived in extra-time.
They then came out on top in the shootout with Dominik Livakovic saving Rodrygo’s spot-kick and Marquinhos hitting the post, leaving Neymar and co in tears and Croatia still dreaming of their first world title.
“This is for the Croatian people,” Dalic declared. “A great match from the first minute to the last. This is not the end for us, let’s keep going.
“This is a victory for all of us, everyone gave their best. Thanks also to those on the bench, who also live for this national team.”
Dalic: One of our greatest wins
Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic hailed his side’s win over Brazil, describing it as one of their “greatest” ever.
Analysis: Juranovic goes full Cafu to terrorise Brazil
Sky Sports’ Lewis Jones:
When you think of watching Brazil play at a World Cup, flying full-backs come to mind. That was the case in this classic quarter-final but it was not a yellow shirt doing the flying it was Josip Juranovic of Croatia. It was a performance akin to those the great Cafu used to produce for Brazil. The Celtic player was a man possessed on this great stage, offering his side an attacking outlet while also containing Brazil’s array of talent when they ventured into his territory.
He gave Brazil a taste of what was to come on 13 minutes when scampering clear down the right and providing a quality cross which was not made the most of by Ivan Perisic. Danilo then tried the forceful approach to stop him by aggressively lunging in with a high boot which drew the Brazilian a booking before another surging run from the full-back set Perisic up for another effort which flew off target.
A key example of his defensive brilliance was showcased by the fact Vinicius Junior was substituted in the second half. It looked a key tactic for Brazil to get the ball quickly to the Real Madrid wide man but that avenue was sterilised by some terrific one-on-one defending from Juranovic.
With full-back Alistair Johnston’s arrival at Celtic, it looks as though the Scottish team are already planning for life after Juranovic. Atletico Madrid have been reportedly linked, but you would assume many more suitors will be sniffing around after a performance of this magnitude. In 120 minutes Juranovic’s price tag may have just trebled.
Analysis: Brazil felled as Tite dances last dance
Sky Sports’ Laura Hunter:
It was prime-time Luka Modric. The one who can wriggle free of danger, execute laser-like precision passes and intelligently control the pace and tempo of games at will. We got to see the full repertoire of one of this era’s greatest midfield maestros, in a game that was largely decided by the stubbornness of Croatia’s middle third.
Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic ran the show, almost passively. They nullified Brazil’s usual threats. They disturbed and disrupted Brazil’s rhythm. And they epitomised Croatia’s conscientious game plan. Casemiro was barely in it.
One moment of Neymar magic originally lit up the tie, equalling Pele’s record as Brazil’s all-time leading men’s scorer (77) in the meantime, but otherwise Tite’s side were found severely wanting. Relying purely on historic success is a fool’s game. No one team, or nation, possess footballing immortality. Brazil have been eliminated from four of their last five World Cup quarter-finals.
Another unwanted record; they have simultaneously become the first side in World Cup history to be eliminated from a knockout match after scoring the opening goal during extra-time.
It’s hard to understand how a side that dazzled so tantalisingly against South Korea on Monday, can come up so short four days’ later. But that’s tournament football. In recent years, Croatia’s major tournament record eclipses that of Brazil, spelling the end of Tite’s six-year reign. “My cycle is over,” he conceded.
Modric of course had the decency to console Real Madrid team-mate Rodrygo – who missed a penalty – at the final whistle.
No more samba. But plenty more Modric.
Where next for Brazil?
South American football expert Tim Vickery:
“It always feels like the death of a family member when Brazil go out of the World Cup, and they really felt their name was on the trophy this time. It’s been a 20-year wait and it’s now going to be 24. Yet again it’s the knockout stages against a European team. That’s the bar that they can’t get over.
“They were convinced they were going to get over it this time. They were just four minutes away from getting over it this time, and it would’ve been a deserved win had it happened – but it didn’t happen.
“Now, Brazil can be vicious and I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of the outgoing coach as he’s going to be criticised for everything from even how he ties up his shoelaces. People will turn on him now as this is seen as failure. They’ve gone out to a nation with a population of 4.5 million people.
“There’s more than 210 million Brazilians all thinking they could be a better coach. The knives will come out now as sadness gives way to anger. We won’t be seeing the likes of Thiago Silva again, and even Neymar left his future in doubt before the World Cup.
“He said that it could well be his last one and he was inconsolable with sadness at the end. He’s not thinking straight, he said, so he couldn’t guarantee that he would carry on towards the next World Cup.
“It could well be that this was his last game for Brazil, in which he scored a magnificent goal to equal Pele’s record as Brazil’s all-time record goalscorer. They joys of this game was that questions were being asked like a tennis match. Croatia were helped by the fact that Richarlison clearly wasn’t fully fit. He’s the one who leads the press so it was easier for Croatia to come out.
“Brazil became frustrated but Neymar’s goal was wonderful. The big question was then whether Croatia could come back. Brazil had brought on Fred to lock down the midfield but they were caught on the counter with just four minutes of extra-time to go. It’s then a shame that an enthralling match was decided on individual errors in a collective sport like football.
“I’m sure Rodrygo and Marquinhos will be going without sleep for a fair amount of time.”
Croatia came through their second straight shootout after also beating Japan on penalties in the last-16 to book a date with Argentina in the semi-finals in Qatar.
Tuesday December 13
Argentina vs Croatia – kick-off 7pm
Wednesday December 14
England or France vs Morocco or Portugal – kick-off 7pm