It wasn’t supposed to go this way, Brazil may say, but Croatia will insist this is exactly how it was going to go because they have virtually patented this strategy in knockout games in tournaments.
Mull on this stat below before we go on.
⏱️ FT | Croatia 0-0 Brazil— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) December 9, 2022
⏳ In a run going back to Euro 2008, 8 of Croatia's last 9 knockout stage games at major tournaments have gone to extra time
They have won the previous 4 that were in the #FIFAWorldCup #Qatar2022
That is the mark of a team who simply do not know when they are beaten, and refuse to lay down and die. With a mix of gritty veterans and hard-running younger players, Croatia are proving to be the international benchmark for resilience in football.
Brazil meanwhile will mull on another four years in the wilderness, with their World Cup trophy drought now inevitably stretching at least to an unthinkable 24 years.
Croatia made two changes to the team that started against Japan in the last round, with Borna Sosa recovering and Mario Pasalic for Bruno Petkovic.
Croatia XI: Livakovic, Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa, Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic, Pasalic, Kramaric, Perisic.
For Brazil, Tite went with the same XI that started in the 4-1 rout of South Korea.
Brazil XI: Alisson, Militao, Marquinhos, Silva, Danilo, Paqueta, Casemiro, Raphinha, Vinicius, Neymar, Richarlison.
Brazil started off on an attacking note looking to subdue Croatia, but things did not go to script, especially early on. The European side pressed high and with intent, causing passes to go awry and the South American powerhouse to get thrown off their game.
The first half was mostly even with no clear chances for either side, and the event resembled more of a chess match than a World Cup quarterfinal. It was closer to the quarter mark of the game when Neymar and Vinicius Jr finally started clicking, but still the Croatian defence led by goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic and the pair of Dejan Lovren and Josko Gvardiol in front of him held solid.
Right until halftime Croatia held their shape and composure, Brazil unable to really wrest control of the game. Brazil had a couple of moments where they almost unlocked the Croatian defence, but the European side was masterful, and created their own chances too. This was not the one-sided attack that we had expected at all, but the thought then was to see what happens when Croatian legs start to tire.
Former Evertonian Richarlison barely had a sniff in the 85 odd minutes he played, like we saw often when he was alone upfront for the Toffees against physical centrehalves. But it was extra time when the game finally came alive.
In time added on in the first half of extra time, Neymar played two give-and-go’s in impossibly tight quarters before rounding Livakovic and slamming home into the roof of the net to give Brazil the lead. Surely Croatia would have nothing in the tank to equalize?
Wrong again. The indefatigable Croats somehow still mustered one final attack, and their only shot on target was their last one, and the most important one, that leveled the game at 1-1 deep into extra time.
After his Round of 16 penalty shootout heroics against Japan where he saved three spotkicks, Livakovic went into the shootout with his morale sky high, especially after foiling the Brazilians time after time with eleven saves during the 120 minutes preceding it.
Former Evertonian Nikola Vlasic started the proceedings with a shot right down the middle, and then Livakovic perfectly saved Rodrygo’s first attempt to heap pressure on the Brazilians, down 1-0.
Next Majer went down the middle against Alisson to make it 2-0 but Casemiro showed solid nerves to bang home even though Livakovic guessed right, 2-1.
Veteran Modric was up next, and sent Alisson the wrong way, 3-1. Pedro stepped up for Brazil, and calmly sent the goalie the wrong way, very gutsy for a player with only four caps, 3-2.
Orsic beat Alisson to his right, and more pressure heaped on Marquinhos.. and he beat Livakovic, but the ball came back off the post, game over.
If this first game is any indicator of how the remaining quarter finals are going to go, then absolutely nothing is going to go according to plan and any thing can happen. Such is football.