How Croatia threw Brazil out of the World Cup

AL RAYYAN, Qatar – For 45 minutes, then 90 minutes and then 15 more minutes, Brazil tried out all the tools of their formidable arsenal: the toes and back heels, the cutely curved curlers and the extra-foot discs. As his frustration mounted, he turned to some of football’s darker arts: jumps and flops, jersey pulls and shoves, and appeals to the referee for justice.

None of this worked. Croatia had brought a vise to a gunfight and quietly and methodically squeezed the life and joy out of Brazil for more than two long hours on Friday. Croatia, as their opponents should know by now, will not go out of the World Cup without a fight.

The Brazilians scored a late goal. The Croats responded with an even later one. The game went to penalties. And only then, when a tie could not be broken with eight quick shots after 120 minutes, was it over.

Croatia headed for the semifinals. Brazil went home. Again.

“For me, Brazil is football and football is Brazil,” said Croatian defender Borna Sosa. “Beating Brazil is maybe the best feeling ever.”

Brazil came to Qatar last month with the only goal they set themselves at every World Cup: to win it. As five-time world champions, a country that believes it has as legitimate a claim as any nation to dominance in the sport it reveres, Brazil had cruised through its first three games. His rise had never been questioned, having won his first game with star Neymar in the line-up and shared the next two while sitting with an ankle injury.

The usual pride was back on Monday, with a 4-1 win over South Korea that saw terrific passing, raving goal celebrations and the nation’s annual expectations set sky-high.

When everything started to go right on Friday, when Brazil took the lead through Neymar’s extra-time goal, the players and the nation breathed a sigh of relief. But just as suddenly everything went wrong: a Croatian equalizer, a penalty shoot-out defeat, a quarter-final elimination instead of a possible date with Argentina in the semi-finals on Tuesday.

“What went wrong is that it’s football,” said Brazil goalkeeper Alisson. “Everything can happen.”

Many fans and some journalists immediately blamed Brazil’s coach for the defeat; After the game, he responded to calls for his resignation by saying he had already made up his mind to give up his post. Others have simply turned their backs.

“I don’t watch this cup anymore,” said Andressa Valentim, 26, a forest engineer, who cried in a cafe in Brasilia after the loss. “It’s over for me.”

Croatia, as their opponents should know by now, will not go out of the World Cup without a fight. They had fought their way to the final at the last edition in Russia in 2018, surviving three games going into overtime and had already beaten Japan in a penalty shoot-out in Qatar on Monday.

“We’re favorites in a penalty shoot-out,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said through an interpreter after the win against Brazil. It was, he said, “as if our opponents had already lost the game by that point.”

The way there had been steady, but not straight. Croatia seemed to have run out of rope at the end of the first overtime as Neymar scored a lightning-fast surrender and a goal, giving Brazil a deserved if delayed lead. His fans breathed a sigh of relief. So did his nation.

But Croatia had an answer for that too: a counterattack in the 117th minute, a pass from nowhere into the middle, a hard shot from Bruno Petkovic, which was deflected to equalize. Only then did the teams in the World Cup quarter-finals, goalless after two halves and no longer after two extra times, reach the place where so many of Croatia’s games end today: on penalties.

And then the Brazilians probably guessed the coming end.

Four Croatians played calmly and converted their penalties. Two Brazilians – Rodrygo, who took first place, and Marquinhos, who took last place – did not.

And just like that, Brazil, who had had one foot in the semifinals less than 30 minutes earlier, were out.

It couldn’t believe it. Marquinhos dropped to his knees just before the penalty spot and then laid his forehead on the grass. Neymar, who was never able to make his try in the penalty shootout, covered his face in midfield, then stood up and bit his collar, his face a look of disbelief. Thiago Silva came over and gave him a kiss on the check. Daniel Alves came out with a hug. A tear rolled down Neymar’s cheek.

On the other side of the field, Croatia’s insane sprints in all directions rallied around goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, who had saved Rodrygo’s penalty and forced Marquinhos to try to hit his razor blade.

Croatia, the undefeated side, meet the winners of Friday’s second game between Argentina and the Netherlands in next week’s semi-finals. Block out some extra time if you plan on watching.

Brazil can’t say they didn’t try their best to win. When Vinícius Júnior and Richarlison and Raphina couldn’t find a way past Livakovic, Antony, Rodrygo and Pedro were sent on to try. When Neymar finally found a way through, the lead only lasted about 15 minutes. The pressure returned. The exit door appeared.

Croatia’s penalty shootout was as clinical as its performance, more broadly, methodical. Nikola Vlasic went left. Lavro Majer went in the middle. Luka Modric shot up. Mislav Orsic shot deep.

When Marquinhos solidly bounced his try off the left post moments later, the field was quickly awash in color with people still trying to clarify what had just happened. The Brazilians, favorites in their famous yellow jerseys, staggered or stood in place or ran offside, reconciling the country having to wait another four years to add to its record five World Cup tally.

Croatia’s red-and-white checkered celebration was everywhere by this point, a random sea of ​​flags and hugs and shirtless men and running children scattered across the field. One of Modric’s children jumped into his arms. Lovren took one of his hands for a walk. And in the middle of the field, Leonardo and Manuela Perisic, the children of Croatian striker Ivan Perisic, formed a straight line to the center circle towards Neymar, who was then given a tearful hug by a team-mate.

A Brazilian staffer stepped in to fend off Leonardo and held out an arm to suggest it might not be the right time. But Leonardo had caught Neymar’s eye and the Brazilian turned to face him. The boy and the superstar clasped their hands. Neymar held the boy’s head. They exchanged a quick word. Then they parted, the boy ran away with his sister, back to the Croatian celebrations. Neymar soon headed to the dressing room, heading for another long wait.

James Wagner provided coverage from Brasilia’s Al Rayyan and André Spigariol. How Croatia threw Brazil out of the World Cup

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