CHEER-RIO BRAZIL have been sensationally knocked out of the World Cup in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
And now it’s Croatia who will be heading into a semi-final clash with Argentina or Holland despite drawing four of their five matches here in Qatar.
Neymar was left in tears after the penalty shoot-out defeat
Croatia booked their place in the semi-final for a second successive World Cup
Brazil captain Marquinhos missed the deciding penalty
It was heartbreak for Brazil having been minutes away from a semi-final place
Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic scored a dramatic late equaliser in extra-time
Neymar had produced a moment of magic to put Brazil in front
Brazil dominated Croatia before a their penalty shoot-out defeat
Neymar was a key threat fro Brazil throughout
And once again it was Croatian keeper Dominik Livakovic who was the hero after saving three Japanese penalties in the previous round.
This time he threw himself to his left to keep out Rodrygo’s opening spot-kick to give his team the psychological advantage.
And when Marquinhos struck his effort against the post, the boys from Brazil collapsed to the deck in shock.
It came after Neymar thought he had fired his team to victory after summoning up his inner Diego Maradona for an outrageous stoppage time breakthrough
The Brazilian superstar danced his way through the entire Croatian defence, exchanging passes first with Rodrygo and then with Lucas Paqueta before rounding keeper Dominik Livakovic to squeeze his shot inside the near post.
It was a solo effort right up there with Maradona’s wonder goal to knock England out of the 1986 World Cup.
Yet Croatia simply refused to accept their fate and levelled with their very first shot on target when sub Bruno Petkovic smashed home from Mislav Orsic’s assist.
And that was all the 2018 finalists needed to pull off the shock of the tournament.
After the way they had blown South Korea away with four first-half goals in the previous round, it was only natural that Brazil’s followers were anticipating another early blitz from their team.
But they were to be bitterly disappointed as the people’s champions struggled to get out of first gear during the cagey opening exchanges.
And for a team who are supposed to be in love with the ball so much, they didn’t half give it away easily.
Richarlison and Raphinha were hardly getting a kick against a well marshalled Croatian defence which quickly realised that it was not going to be the onslaught they had expected.
In fact the best opportunity of a deeply disappointing first half fell to Zlatko Dalic’s men when Ivan Perisic just failed to make a clean connection with Mario Pasalic’s inviting cross into the danger zone.
Another Perisic effort almost hit the corner flag as both teams struggled to mount any kind of threat, although the impressive Josko Gvardiol did well to block a long overdue shot on target from Vinicius Junior.
Danilo was fortunate to escape with a yellow card from ref Michael Oliver when he took out Josip Juranovic with a wild head high challenge.
And he was joined in Oliver’s notebook by Marcelo Brozovic for pulling back Neymar after being nutmegged by the Brazilian superstar.
Brazil boss Tite was clearly not impressed and whatever he said to his players during the interval clearly hit home because they came out for the second half like men possessed.
Dominik Livakovic was forced into the first meaningful save of the match when he prevented Gvardiol turning Eder Militao’s’ low cross into his own goal before Brazilian appeals for a handball in the box by Juranovic were rejected by VAR.
Neymar was thwarted by Livakovic after being played in on goal by Richarlison and the Croatian keeper was quick enough off his line to block from Lucas Paqueta when the West Ham man threatened to break the deadlock.
But even the introduction of Antony, Rodrygo and Pedro could not knock Croatia out of their stride as Luka Modric continued to defy the ageing process with another tireless display in the middle of the pitch.
Having won seven of their last eight tournament knock-out games in extra-time, it was Croatia who were more than happy to play on for another 30 minutes.
And that confidence was more than justified when they held their nerve to win the shoot-out 4-2.