Brazil's players have been left shattered after being knocked out of the World Cup on penalties against Croatia, in a massive shock for football fans. The 2018 finalists defied the odds again after equalising late in extra time, before edging the five-time champions 4-2 on penalties.
For Croatia, it was their second straight victory via penalty shootout after beating Japan in the same manner during the round of 16. However, for tournament favourites Brazil it was heartache as superstar forward Neymar and his teammates slumped to the pitch in tears after seeing their World Cup dream ended.
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Neymar must have thought he'd won it for Brazil after rifling in a superb goal in extra time, to draw equal with the legendary Pele's all-time goals record for the national side. However, Croatia substitute Bruno Petkovic took the game to penalties with a left-footed equaliser three minutes from the end of extra-time, before the Croatians broke Brazilian hearts in Doha's Education City Stadium.
Remarkably, Petkovic's late equaliser was the first shot Croatia had on target the entire game. The Croats then kept their composure from the penalty spot after Brazil's Rodrygo had the first penalty saved by goalkeeping hero Dominik Livakovic, before Marquinhos struck the post with his crucial fourth effort. Nikola Vlasic, Lovro Majer, Luka Modric and Mislav Orsic were all successful from the spot for Croatia.
Bizarrely, it meant that Brazil's best penalty-taker did not even take a spot-kick, with Neymar presumably set to come in at No.5. The Paris Saint-Germain forward was inconsolable on the pitch after the final whistle, as fans were left in disbelief that the favourites to lift the World Cup title had been eliminated.
"This is just for the Croatian people," said a gobsmacked Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic. "A great match from the first minute to the last. We eliminated the biggest favourites. This is not the end for us, let's keep going!"
"I am overjoyed that we, with a three and a half million population, are entering the semi-finals for the second time in a row. I will tell everyone now to say, 'we are not normal'."
Croatians take their chance to stun World Cup favourites
Croatia had initially refused to be intimidated by their more illustrious opponents and in the first half successfully stifled most Brazil moves early. Apart from a weak Vinicius Jr. shot, Brazil had little else to offer in terms of attack with Neymar off the pace and shut out by a hard-working backline.
Croatia looked sharper, more skilled in their passing game and with a precise game plan, and by the end of the first half they perhaps surprisingly had the upper hand in terms of possession.
It was a different story after the break when Josko Gvardiol tried to clear the ball but almost turned it into his own goal. That was followed moments later by claims for a hand ball by defender Josip Juranovic which were shot down following a VAR review, before Neymar was sent through by Richarlison in the 55th minute only to have his close-range effort blocked by Livakovic.
The Brazilians, who have now lost four of their last five World Cup quarter-finals against European opposition, came close again in the 66th when Lucas Paqueta was denied by Livakovic. The Croatia keeper also stopped Neymar in the 76th and by that time had more saves in the match - seven- than his Brazil counterpart, Alisson, had in the entire tournament (five).
In stoppage time of the first period of extra time, Neymar, largely lacklustre until then, launched an attack outside the box, played two consecutive one-twos to bamboozle the tired Croatian defence and then rounded the keeper to equal Brazil great Pele's record of 77 international goals.
But the Croats refused to surrender with Petkovic's equaliser forcing penalties and coming out on top in the shootout with Livakovic the toast of this remarkable little footballing nation.
For Brazil and Neymar, though, there were only tears. "It is hard to have words at the moment there," said Brazil captain Thiago Silva. "When we lose something important that we had as a goal, it hurts a lot. Unfortunately as a player, I won't be able to raise this cup," added the 38-year-old.
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