Croatia stunned football powerhouse Brazil in a penalty shootout to reach their second successive World Cup semi-final.
After both sides were locked at 1-1 following regulation time at Education City Stadium, Croatia scored four times while Brazil missed a couple of spot kicks to hand Luka Modric’s side a 4-2 win.
It was Croatia’s first win over Brazil - a five-time champion - in three World Cup head-to-head matches.
Earlier in regulation time, Neymar scored deep into the first half of extra time as Brazil jumped to 1-0 to lead (105 +2). It was Neymar’s 77th goal for Brazil, a tally that he shares with football icon Pele.
As Neymar, who missed two matches because of a twisted ankle, and teammates celebrated in front of thousands of Brazilian fans, Croatia skipper and playmaker Modric could only watch with his hands on hips.
However, substitute Bruno Petkovic produced a left-footed goal (117th minute) to send the match into a penalty shootout.
In the penalty shootout, Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic first saved Rodrygo’s penalty with a dive to his left. A few minutes later, Marquinhos hit the goalpost to give Croatia a 4-2 win over Brazil.
Runners-up at Russia 2018, Croatia take on former champions Argentina in the semi-finals on Tuesday.
Yesterday Argentina beat Netherlands 4-3 in a penalty shootout after both teams were locked at 2-2 in regulation and extra time.
Croatia yesterday were quick off the blocks with intent to win following their victory over Japan in the Round of 16 on Monday. In just the third minute, Mateo Kovacic, the Chelsea midfielder, took off on the left flank and forced a free kick while tackling Brazil’s Casemiro. On the free-kick, Marcelo Brozovic couldn’t find the target.
Two minutes later, Brazil’s Vinicius Junior charged down the left flank. His pass to a teammate rebounded and this time a direct shot from Junior curled to the right but Croatian ’keeper Livakovic easily blocked the move.
In the 9th minute, Ivan Perisic managed a cross from the left flank but there was nobody to deflect the ball into the net. With momentum on their side, Croatia won a corner in the 15th minute but Richarlison headed the ball away to allow the men in yellow some breathing space.
In a rough tackle, Brazil’s Danilo raised his leg up to the face of Josip Juranovic prompting a yellow card from the referee in the 25th minute. In another quality move, Croatia’s Mario Pasalic sent in a neat cross from the flank but Juranovic failed to deflect the ball home from close range.
In the 35th minute, Juranovic under pressure from a Junior, cleared the ball a couple of feet from his own six-yard box.
Neymar drilled a powerful free kick in the 43rd minute but the ball - after a slight deflection off Brozovic - dipped on Livakovic who collected the ball to finish off the move. A minute from the first-half whistle, Borna Sosa found space down the left flank and then attempted to release Perisic into the Brazil box. But Brazilian captain Thiago Silva was sharp to keep Perisic away before clearing the ball from the danger zone.
Three minutes into the second half, Brazil showed early intent after the break. Raphinha took off like a bullet through to the right flank. Without wasting time, Raphinha flicked in a low cross but Croatian defender Jokso Gvardiol deflected the ball towards his own goal. Fortunately ’keeper Livakovic stuck out a leg to kill the move.
Shortly afterwards, Perisic curled in a superb loopy cross a few feet from the edge of Brazil box but Andrej Kramaric failed to meet the ball that sailed above his head. With the scoreboard showing 0-0, Brazil coach Tite made the first move by bringing on Antony for Raphinha. Croatian players quickly regrouped after early attacks by Brazil and moved ahead with short passing.
In a golden chance to score, keeper Livakovic blocked Lucas Paqueta in a one-on-one move near the six-yard box a little after the first-hour mark. Neymar’s free kick, a little later, was well blocked by the Croatian wall much to Casemiro’s dismay who held his head in frustration. Seconds later, Casemiro was shown the yellow card for a most innocuous push on Karamaric near the halfline. British referee Michael Oliver dismissed Neymar’s plea for a review on the yellow card.
Livakovic, out of his position, charged at Neymar but the Brazilian’s low shot was deflected off the Croatian ’keeper’s bent knee in the 70th minute. Around 10 minutes later, following a muffed up corner, Modric raced towards the Brazilian half but he was brought down by defender Marquinhos who was shown a yellow card by the referee.
With 10 minutes to go in regulation time, Paqueta drilled a low shot from the edge of the Croatian box but Livakovic blocked the shot rather brilliantly. Four minutes of injury time also yielded no goals as teams went into extra time.
In the fifth minute of the first extra half, Neymar was fortunate not to have picked up a yellow for a rough tackle on Brozovic who collapsed in agonising pain clutching his knee. Substitute Rodrygo fed Paqueta with a superb long-range cross. But Paqueta couldn’t meet the ball - under pressure from Sosa - for a deflection despite a dive in front of the six-yard box.
Just when it looked like a goalless first half in extra time, Brazil struck. Neymar charged ahead before he exchanged passes with Rodrygo and Pedro and quickly powered into the Croatian box. With the ball at his feet, Neymar went around a charging Livakovic on the right and rifled a shot into the roof of the net despite a desperate dive by Sosa.
Three minutes before the final whistle, Petokovic - after a cross from substitute Mislav Orsic - drilled a shot from the edge of the box to the left of Brazil keeper Alisson. The ball deflected off a defender and went into the net with Alisson hardly in a position to align himself with the direction of the shot.
Players of Croatia pose for pictures as they celebrate after qualifying to the next round by defeating Brazil in the penalty shoot-out of the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final. (AFP)