Playing gutsy football against a superior side, Croatia Friday stunned football powerhouse Brazil in a penalty shootout to reach the semi-finals at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, who made a series of saves in regulation time, last night turned hero in the penalty shootout when Brazil choked under pressure at the Education City Stadium.
In the penalty shootout, after both teams were locked at 1-1 following stunning goals by Neymar for Brazil and Bruno Petkovic for the 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia, 'keeper Livakovic set the tone when he stopped Rodrygo's first effort for Brazil.
With Croatia leading 4-1, PSG's centre-back Marquinhos saw his kick rebound off the post to give Croatia a 4-2 win in the penalty shootout and a place in the last four for the second World Cup in a row.
In the semi-final on Tuesday, Croatia will meet former champions Argentina who beat Netherlands 4-3 in a penalty shootout after both sides ended regulation time 2-2 in their quarter-final at Lusail Stadium.
Nahuel Molina scored the first goal of the match in the 35th minute on an assist by captain Lionel Messi. Argentina made it 2-0 when Messi scored off a penalty in the 73rd minute. With his goal, Messi equalled Gabriel Batistuta's record of 10 goals in World Cup history for Argentina.
Wout Weghorst of Netherlands produced a remarkable late double (83 and 90 +11) to push the match into extra time.
In the shootout, Argentina goalkeeper Emi Martinez saved penalties from Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis before Lautaro Martinez scored the winning spot kick to secure them a 4-3 win.
Brazil captain Thiago Silva said his team's World Cup exit to Croatia on penalties was painful and that he was coming to terms with the fact he would never win the trophy.
"It is difficult. I have been through some disappointments in my life and when we lose something important that we have as an objective it hurts quite a lot," Silva said Friday. "But we have to try to lift our heads and carry on. There is no other alternative."
The Brazil captain said his side had switched off for Croatia's goal. "I think all of a sudden we lost our concentration," Silva said.
"We are not used to being hit on the break like that. We became a little disorganised and that is where the goal came from."
The Chelsea centre-back, 38, has likely played his final World Cup match.
"Sadly as a player I am not going to get to lift this trophy," he said. "Who knows if in future I will get the chance in another role."
Earlier Neymar looked to have kept Brazil's hopes of a sixth World Cup title alive by starting and finishing a brilliant effort in extra time that equalled Pele's international scoring record of 77 goals.
But he was left distraught and sobbing after Brazil lost a shootout that was triggered when substitute Petkovic popped up to make it 1-1 at the end of extra time.
Neymar's individual flash of brilliance had lit up a tense and often niggly game that finished goalless in normal time, Croatia's man-of-the-match goalkeeper Livakovic pulling off a series of stunning blocks to keep the Brazilians at bay.
But as the minutes of extra time ticked down at the Education City Stadium, Petkovic popped up to connect with a cross and his deflected shot found its way into the net past the outstretched arm of Brazil 'keeper Alisson.
As the Croatian players sprinted across the turf in joy, Marquinhos sank to his knees and Neymar was soon in tears, being consoled by veteran teammate Dani Alves.
Livakovic, who again played a huge role after his heroics against Japan, said Friday: "We're raised as fighters. We spare no effort - we're always giving our best and that's our recipe for success."
The Croatian team coached by Zlatko Dalic followed up their win over Japan on penalties in the last round with this victory, which might well go down as their greatest ever triumph.
Brazil will have to wait at least another four years for that sixth title - by 2026 it will be 24 years since they last won it.
Attention switches Saturday to the heavyweight clash between defending champions France and England.
France captain Hugo Lloris said the rivalry between the two countries was special.
"These are two great football nations and the rivalry between us also exists in other sports like rugby," Lloris said Friday. "When you get to such a high level these are great battles. At an event like the World Cup there is a special flavour to a France-England game. But we are preparing for a World Cup quarter-final, regardless of the opponent."
England boss Gareth Southgate has vowed to go on the attack, despite the threat from the fleet-footed Kylian Mbappe, arguably the best player in the world.
"There is no point going into a game like this and just covering up and sitting on the ropes," Southgate told ITV. "We believe we can cause problems with the ball and we intend to do that."
In the other game Saturday, giant-killers Morocco, in the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time, take on Portugal, the 2016 Euro champions captained by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Argentina's Lautaro Martinez celebrates with teammates after scoring the winning spot kick in the penalty shootout against Netherlands at Lusail Stadium. Reuters
Brazil's forward #10 Neymar (C top) scores his team's first goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final football match between Croatia and Brazil at Education City Stadium.