DOHA, Qatar (AFP) — Croatia stunned favorite Brazil to reach the World Cup semifinals on Friday, winning 4-2 on penalties after a nail-biting Last-Eight tie finished 1-1 at the end of extra time.
Marquinhos missed the crucial spot-kick in the shoot-out, hitting the post when he had to score to keep Brazil in it after Rodrygo’s earlier attempt had been saved by goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic and Croatia converted all four penalties.
It was a remarkable turnaround after Brazil had looked set for victory when Neymar opened the scoring with a wonderful strike midway through extra time that allowed him to equal Pele’s Brazilian record of 77 international goals.
But Bruno Petkovic hit back at the other end in the 117th minute for Croatia to force a shoot-out, and Zlatko Dalic’s team followed up their win over Japan on penalties in the last round with this victory, which must go down as their greatest ever triumph.
“We are very, very proud but this is not the end. We want to go further still,” Dalic said.
“It is the second time (in a row) Croatia have been in the semifinals and the players are going wild.”
As they advance to the Last Four, Brazil will have to wait at least another four years before winning a record-extending sixth title.
Neymar — who left the pitch in tears — had fired Brazil into the lead at the end of the first half of extra-time, working one-twos with Rodrygo and Lucas Paqueta before rounding goalkeeper Livakovic to score.
But it did not break Croatia’s resistance as the 2018 World Cup finalists hit back.
“It is difficult, but while we are sad life goes on, so we need to lift our heads up,” Brazil skipper Thiago Silva told broadcaster Globo.
“I am very proud of the boys, of what we did, but unfortunately that is football.”
Brazil, though, had never played with the same attacking flair as in their Last 16 win over South Korea.
Croatia was as obdurate and difficult to break down as ever, and they have now gone to extra time in eight of their last nine major tournament knockout matches, with the exception being their defeat to France in the World Cup final four years ago.
It was never going to be easy for Brazilians to play with the same freedom and joy as in their demolition of the Koreans, when they celebrated their goals with choreographed dance moves that seemed to upset some onlookers.