Dubai: Croatia had just one shot in 120 minutes. That was enough to stun the Brazilians. Bruno Petkovic’s leftfooted swipe neutralised Neymar’s magical moment and sent the match into the penalty shoot. From there on, there was only one winner in the quarter-final on Friday.
A penalty shoot-out is what Croatia wanted. Because they trust Dominik Livakovic, the goalkeeper who denied Brazil for 120 minutes, the man who stopped Japan in the shoot-out. He made short work of Rodrygo’s poor shot, which meant Neymar never had to take his kick. By then, Brazil had crashed out of the Qatar World Cup.
Why didn’t Brazil’s best penalty-kicker take the first one? That’s a question that will linger for a long time. Did he want to save Brazil with the final kick and bask in the glory? That certainly didn’t work out, as every Brazilian at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan was reduced to tears. More tears would have flown in Brazilian cities.
Full credit to Croatia. They were fully aware of the tremendous Brazilian challenge and closed them down. After 30 minutes, when Brazil started to make inroads, the Croatian defence stood tall, with young Josko Gvardiol playing a stellar role. Even when the defenders were beaten, Livakovic came to the rescue, pulling off 11 saves, including a possible own goal.
It took sheer brilliance to breach the Croatian goal. The moment of pure creativity arrived after 105 minutes. Neymar provided it, playing passes off Rodrygo and Pedro in the 18-yard box and beating defender Borna Sosa before weaving around Livakovic and firing into the goal.
How Brazil played into Croatia’s hands
Neymar leapt, his fist pumping as teammates ran to him. There was no dancing. Only pure relief. There was joy too. Then the dancing started in the stands. With three minutes left for a place in the semi-finals, it was Croatia’s turn to celebrate as Petkovic struck with his team’s only chance of the game.
Why didn’t Brazil try to kill off the game? Why did they try to play the game out? If that was the ploy, they should have had more bodies in the defence. That’s not Brazilian style. Instead, they played into Croatia’s hands and were caught out on the counters.
Marquinhos, who had an outstanding tournament, was to make his first major mistake when Petkovic’s shot took a deflection off his foot and caught the Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker off guard. With Brazil’s fate in balance in the shoot-out, the fullback could only find the upright and sink to his knees. He would like to forget the match in a hurry. So would Brazil.
The best teams don’t always win. That’s a reality. Some of the best Brazilian teams haven’t won the World Cup. The team of 1982 was filled with stars like Socrates, Zico and many others, but they lost in the quarter-finals. So was the case in 1998, when Ronaldo Nazario’s team stumbled in the final against France, but they made amends four years later. Now Tite’s team too.