Heartbreak for five-time champions Brazil as Croatia win dramatic penalty shootout to qualify for World Cup semi-final
Modric’s team staged a brilliant late comeback and then clinched a place in the semis after the penalty shootout.
Luka Modric will stay, Brazil will not.
Marquinhos’s penalty kick sent Dominik Livacovic the wrong way but ricocheted off the post as Croatia pulled off another tie-breaker win, the second time they came from behind to do that in Doha. Marquinhos slumped, as did many of his mates on the touchline. Croatians streamed towards Livakovic. On way to their third World Cup semi-final, Croatia beat Brazil for the first time 4-2 in the penalty shootout after the teams were locked 1-1.
Livakovic had stopped Rodrygo’s penalty that came at a comfortable height and it fetched him another player-of-the-match award on a night he made a number of saves to help Croatia stretch the night into the penalties.
Neymar Jr strike in the 105th minute helped him equal Pele’s mark of 77 international goals but Croatia equalised through Bruno Petkovic off a counter-attack, his shot deflecting off Marquinhos just enough to beat Allision in the 116th minute.
Everytime Neymar probed, Livakovic parried. Till when he dropped deep, set the move going with a slick exchange of passes with Rodrygo and Lucas Paqueta, summoned enough sinew to go past Croatia’s left back Borna Sosa, round off Livakovic and bulge the roof. Brazil thought they had done enough. Only they had not.
Till Neymar’s goal, the night had belonged to Modric’s and Livakovic. By the 34th minute, chants of “Luka, Luka” were being belted from one side of the stands. The response was immediate. The boos though couldn’t hide what was in plain sight. Modric wasn’t done with Doha yet.
Modric had looked down and smiled shyly on being told by a journalist that he has developed a kinship with the Croatia star, having seen his poster around a building over the past month. On Friday, Modric made it clear he wanted Doha to feel his living, breathing self, one who imposes himself on football games.
A momentary lapse in concentration from Casemiro had Modric swooping on the ball. He was there just outside the Croatia penalty area waiting for a clearance to set things going for the team in red checks. He duly did. Then, Modric found Josip Juranovic with a pass so swift and sudden that caught by surprise Danilo was booked for a high boot on the Croatia full back.
Always ready to be a passing option, Modric was also defending, which is what Croatia had to do for most of the game. “Luka, Luka” broke out again in the 39th minute. Marquinhos willing to get into the book by wrapping his arms around him as Croatia tried to break following a 77th minute Brazil corner-kick was proof of the kind of night Modric was having. In the 96th minute, Modric dispossessed Marquinhos. More chants of “Luka, Luka.” One minute later, he nutmegged a Brazilian to find Marcelo Brozovic on the other side.
When Rodrygo looked to break through, Modric left an elbow on the Brazil wide player. Of such dark arts, the night had many from both teams.
It was a night when people of a certain vintage were showing they could still be relevant on the sport’s biggest stage. Thiago Silva, nearly a year older than Modric who is 37, pulled a ball back from the byline sprinting like was 25.
It was also a night for the young to show they belong to this level. If Modric was ever ready to receive a pass, Josko Gvardiol, 20, was mopping up things at the back. He blocked a Neymar attempt soon after the interval, the move calling for a penalty check because the ball had touched Josip Juranovic’s hand coming to nothing. He intercepted a ball meant for Richarlison and like he has shown in every match here, comfortably carried the ball forward. On one of his forays, he misplaced the pass and as Brazil tried to build an attack, Gvardiol saw Modric filling the gap.
Despite the efforts of Croatia to drop deep as a team and block out Brazil, Livakovic was called into play a few times. Vinicius Jr tested him early and Neymar with a free-kick near half-time. Livakovic again denied Neymar after Richarlison and Paqueta combined to find Brazil’s No. 10. After keeping out a Paqueta attempt, he denied Neymar again in the 76th. By then Brazil had four players with peroxide hair. Two of them combined for the first goal. Only for Modric to suck in air, set his hair band right and soon after start the move that fetched the equaliser.