Croatia dumped Brazil out of the World Cup with a victory on penalties after an entertaining 1-1 draw on Friday.
Neymar looked set to win it late in extra time with a superb solo goal before Bruno Petkovic’s surprise equalizer sent the game to penalties, where Rodrygo struggled to save and Marquinhos hit the post to seal Brazil’s fate.
Vinicius Junior fired wide, but the first real scare came at the other end when Mario Pasalica’s cross found Andrej Kramaric, who failed to make the right contact in an excellent area.
The European nation undoubtedly had the upper hand in the opening 15 minutes, but Vinicius offered a reminder of his threat with a fine strike after a neat pass forced a smart block from the in-demand Josko Guardiola.
That was pretty much the extent of the final third action in the first 45, which was more about the midfield battle than the quest for wickets. It was more fun than it sounds, I promise.
Just two minutes into the second half, the Croatian fans were sweating when Guardiola’s desperate save almost led to an own goal before frantic defending produced chances for both Vinicius and Neymar. Amidst the chaos, there was a VAR review on a potential handball from Josip Juranovic, which was soon overruled.
A vastly improved Brazil kept coming and Neymar soon found himself on target but his effort was smartly saved by Dominik Livakovic.
The Croatia stopper was at it again soon after, rushing off his line to block Lucas Paqueta’s strike before Livakovic was again the hero to deny Neymar.
Both sides threatened as we neared the end of the 90s, with Brazil doing more in the final third but unable to come up with the answers needed to break down the Croatian defence, so we went into extra time again.
Antony emerged as the most influential player on the pitch after the break as Brazil looked to assert their dominance, but Marcelo Brozovic should have put Croatia ahead when he skied past Bruno Petkovic. Croatia still had no shots on goal.
Just before the break, Neymar woke up and fired his side ahead. Consecutive one-twos with his teammates saw him weave his way into the box and fire into the net after surrounding Livakovič. The kind of goal that only a star player can score.
With Croatia now forced to go for it, they found the unlikeliest of equalizers when Bruno Petkovic’s shot – their first on target all game – deflected off the leg of Marquinhos and past Alisson to send the game to penalties.
Nikola Vlasic scored first and Croatia took the lead when Livakovic saved from Rodrygo. The next five penalties went until the decisive failure of Marquinhos, whose effort flew back off the post and resigned to another flight home.
Croatia player ratings (4-3-3)
GK: Dominik Livakovic – 9/10 – The busier of the two goalkeepers but that’s not saying much. Made some really impressive saves in the second half.
RB: Josip Juranovic – 8/10 – A monstrous first half followed by a solid second. Great energy and drive down the right which caused Brazil plenty of problems, but he didn’t renege on his defensive duties either. Even out-paced Vinicius.
CB: Dejan Lovren – 7/10 – A really intelligent performance to mark Richarlison out of the game. Used all his experience to orchestrate Croatia’s defence.
CB: Josko Gvardiol – 7/10 – Happy to step forwards to help overload the midfield even more. Won plenty of tackles.
LB: Borna Sosa – 5/10 – Not particularly involved at either end but did the basics of his job well. Didn’t give Raphinha a sniff but emphatically lost his battle against Antony.
DM: Marcelo Brozovic – 8/10 – The energy in Croatia’s midfield, Brozovic pressed the life out of his opponents. Picked up a foolish yellow card in the first half but didn’t let that slow him down.
CM: Luka Modric – 8/10 – Took a little while to settle into the game but eventually flexed his quality. Dropped deep to play quarterback at times and swallowed up any Brazilian attempts to press.
CM: Mateo Kovacic – 8/10 – Did a lot of the ugly work as he hounded Brazil’s midfield to recover possession. Not a typical performance from him but an excellent one nonetheless.
RW: Mario Pasalic – 6/10 – Barely played as a right winger. Operated either as an auxiliary right-back or a central midfielder, wherever he was needed to make up the numbers. Crucial to the tactical setup although a little underwhelming with the ball at his feet.
ST: Andrej Kramaric – 3/10 – Did his best to offer an outlet but just couldn’t get involved in the game.
LW: Ivan Perisic – 6/10 – A nice threat down the left, cutting inside for ambitious shots on goal. More of a second left-back after Antony came on.
Bruno Petkovic (72′ for Kramaric) – 5/10 – Equally as isolated as Kramaric. Had two positive moments, one of which was the most dramatic of equalisers.
Nikola Vlasic (72′ for Pasalic) – 5/10 – Not too involved as Croatia were doing more defending by the time he arrived.
Lovro Majer (106′ for Kovacic) – 6/10 – Didn’t have much time to impact proceedings.
Ante Budimir (110′ for Sosa) – N/A
Mislav Orsic (114′ for Brozovic) – N/A
Zlatko Dalic – 8/10 – His system ensured Croatia dominated in the first half and contained Brazil after the break. Two incredibly tough tasks but both passed by Dalic.
Brazil player ratings (4-2-3-1)
GK: Alisson – 6/10 – Largely a spectator. Nothing he could do about the equaliser.
RB: Eder Militao – 6/10 – Hard to be too harsh because he’s not a right-back, but Militao looked uncomfortable out wide. No attacking threat in the first half but did try to address that after the break, even playing like a winger at times.
CB: Marquinhos – 7/10 – A little sloppy with the ball at his feet but generally solid. Croatia’s strikers couldn’t get involved at all.
CB: Thiago Silva – 7/10 – Tended to be the man making the important block when Brazil needed one. A real leader.
LB: Danilo – 5/10 – Another victim of the system. Danilo played as a midfielder in possession and so was completely out of position when Croatia recovered the ball. Quite clearly not his fault.
DM: Lucas Paqueta – 4/10 – Didn’t play this deep and was far more advanced, with his poor position opening an acre of space for Croatia’s midfield to dance around in in the first half. Popped up with the assist for Neymar’s strike.
DM: Casemiro – 6/10 – Exposed by the system and was absolutely battered by Croatia’s creative midfield in the first half. Started to flex some more influence after the break.
RM: Raphinha – 3/10 – Hardly involved. No help from Militao but rarely looked like threatening on his own anyway.
AM: Neymar – 7/10 – Really, really quiet for almost the entire game but a moment of absolute magic to put Brazil ahead. A sensational goal. Weirdly didn’t take a penalty.
LM: Vinicius Junior – 4/10 – Lazy defensive work left his side exposed in the first half. Deservedly hooked soon after the interval.
ST: Richarlison – 5/10 – Found it hard to get involved in the first half but dropped deep to help out after the break. A few nice link-ups with Neymar but nothing to write home about.
Antony (55′ for Raphinha) – 8/10 – Offered a great spark and was involved in nearly everything positive from his side. Dragged Brazil on top of proceedings.
Rodrygo (64′ for Vinicius) – 6/10 – Definitely made a nuisance of himself after coming on.
Pedro (84′ for Richarlison) – 6/10 – A physical presence but didn’t get too much joy.
Alex Sandro (106′ for Militao) – 6/10 – Just an extra body in defence.
Fred (106′ for Paqueta) – 6/10 – Worked hard in his short outing.
Tite – 5/10 – Set his side up wrong as Brazil were battered by Croatia in the first half. Surprisingly didn’t adjust tactically but recognised the key players who could make the difference. Bringing Antony on was wise and leaving the ineffective Neymar on, knowing he needed just a few seconds to change the game, was brave.