FOX Sports Insider
DOHA, Qatar – Neymar could only bury his head in his hands, sobbing into the grass, unable to comprehend what had just happened.
It looked like his night, his time, his star move that would take Brazil to the World Cup semi-finals.
The reasons why that didn’t happen – well, there are many – but the only one that mattered on that lopsided, stormy Qatar night was that Croatia goalkeeper Domink Livakovic is an impenetrable wall on penalties.
Croatia is advancing!
Croatia progress to the semi-finals after eliminating Brazil 4-2 on penalties.
Because that’s what it came down to, after 120 minutes and constant tension on Friday night, after Neymar put his team ahead with a goal of incredible creativity midway through extra time. However, Croatia’s utter refusal to give up saw them level with just four minutes of extra time remaining in this dramatic quarter-final.
[Related: Quick guide to surviving penalty kicks at World Cup]
It didn’t matter that we might not see a finer goal than the tapestry Neymar put together, collecting a pair of passes before firing into the roof of the net to draw level with all-time icon Pele as Brazil’s record international goalscorer .
Nor did it matter that substitute Bruno Petkovic’s equalizer came against the run of play and deflected off the outstretched clip of a Brazilian defender, or even that it was Croatia’s first shot on target in almost two hours of play.
And it didn’t matter that Casemiro and Pedro scored from the spot, or that Neymar was named the crucial fifth position – because it didn’t come to that.
Livakovic, brilliant in Croatia’s round of 16 penalty shootout against Japan, dived down his left to stop Rodrigo and force Marquinhos into an angle so narrow that he smashed Brazil’s fourth shot onto the post.
Croatia-Brazil Highlights | 2022 FIFA World Cup
In one of the most dramatic matches of the tournament, Croatia beat Brazil on penalties.
Nikola Vlasic, Lovro Meier, Luka Modric and Mislac Orsic were all perfect with their tries and while Brazil go home with nothing but regret, the small European nation who reached the final four years ago head back to the last four with a wave of confidence and emotion.
Brazil has had a tough time at the World Cup.
Four years ago it was a painful defeat at the hands of Belgium. In 2014, hopes of a glorious exit at the tournament were dashed when Neymar was injured in the quarter-finals. Without him, the team was thrashed 7-1 by Germany in the semifinals.
They will feel that this time it should have been different, that it didn’t have to end like this.
INCREDIBLE goal by Neymar!
Neymar scores a stunning goal in extra time to give Brazil a 1-0 lead against Croatia.
Until Neymar’s moment of magic, things were very tense. There was no dancing because this time Brazil had nothing to dance to for most of the night.
Despite Neymar’s brilliance and Richarlison’s ingenuity, Tite’s game plan and all that talent, Brazil couldn’t find a way through Croatia’s stout defense time and time again.
Brazil started with attacking intent and confidence after looking so lively in their 4-1 round of 16 win over South Korea and the fantastic play that followed every goal.
However, it soon became clear that this was going to be an entirely different proposition.
How Brazil’s defense fell apart
The World Cup Now team criticized Brazil’s poor defensive effort in Croatia’s equaliser.
Croatia, always comfortable without the ball and defending in numbers, got into their rhythm and took the pressure, but much of it was directed at them.
Richarlison headed home from the penalty spot 10 minutes from time before being substituted soon after. Lucas Paqueta’s shot was comfortably saved by Livakovic despite his blistering speed.
Croatia didn’t mind going scoreless and going into extra time, not at all. Indeed, eight of his last nine knockout games at World Cups and European Championships have gone over 90 minutes, with the exception of the 2018 final. They are masters of the long game.
After Neymar’s goal, Croatia looked doomed. We should have known better.
This is a team that does not know how to surrender and, although it often relies on a defensive, counter-attacking style, there are players with a dangerous attack.
Dramatic equalizer by Bruno Petkovic
Bruno Petkovic scored in the dying moments of extra time to keep Croatia alive in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Petkovic’s equalizer was a left-footed strike that was cleanly struck and could have gone in even without the slight deflection.
The look on Neymar’s face at the time said it all. Maybe he felt it, maybe not.
But more pain was coming.
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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and contributor to the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.
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