What. A. Game.
When Croatia met Brazil in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, hardly anyone was giving them a chance against the favorites. Brazil had skill and stamina on their side - Croatia had barely beaten Japan on penalties, while Brazil had breezed past South Korea, even going as far as to substituting goalkeepers.
But what the fans got was a breathtaking display of football. It wasn’t a fancy, dynamic, attacking display of goals. But it was a hard, gritty, nail-biting 120 minutes of pure action.
Brazil, so efficient and smooth against Korea in their previous game, were reduced to shadows of themselves against a sturdy Croatian defense. Right back Josip Juranović was particularly eye-catching as he pocketed Champions League winner Vinicius Jr. with few problems. The midfield trio of Luka Modrić, Marcelo Brozović, and Mateo Kovačić was absolutely stellar, dominating Brazil in the middle of the park and barely giving them a chance to shoot. Whatever chances Brazil had were stifled by keeper Dominik Livaković, who maintained his great form following his one-man show in the shootout against Japan.
Croatia thus held the Brazilians at bay, and extra time beckoned with nothing to separate the two sides after 90 minutes. The Balkans kept on pushing Brazil to the limit, but they let their foot off the gas just once deep into first half stoppage time, allowing Neymar to open the scoring after well over 105 minutes.
But the Croats did not waver. If anything, they became even more determined. Pushing forward, they made it clear that the game was not over. And lo and behold, three minutes from the death, substitute Mislav Oršić (who used to ply his trade in Korea) sent in a fine cross that was met by Bruno Petković, whose shot was deflected off Marquinhos and beyond Alisson Becker’s reach.
It was probably fitting that such a mammoth effort would have to be decided by penalties. Croatia, in their fourth shootout in two World Cups, were calm and composed. After all, they had won their past three, so what was there to be nervous about? Nikola Vlašić kicked things off with a fine shot down the middle before Livaković saved yet another penalty, this time from Real Madrid Champions League hero Rodrygo. Lovro Majer also sent his spot kick down the middle, while Livaković came close to saving Casemiro’s shot. Captain Luka Modrić sent Alisson the wrong way, and Pedro pulled a Robert Lewandowski on Livaković. Oršić then stepped up and scored what was the best penalty of the shootout, arrowing the ball into the side netting. Marquinhos, who was partly at fault for Croatia’s equalizer, ultimately became Brazil’s downfall as his shot hit the woodwork.
This game wasn’t just great because it was yet another giant killing. It was great because it spelled out pure determination. It was clear from minute one that Croatia were not going to let Brazil walk all over them. Instead, they held firm, played their game, took their chance, and booked themselves a place in the semifinals. It was heartwarming and endearing to see just how hard the Croats were fighting. This writer was rooting for Brazil to win the World Cup, but as the game progressed, he found himself rooting more and more for Croatia. Look where they are now. This team is going places.
Of course, it was also good news for us Bayern Munich fans as alum Ivan Perišić and youth product Josip Stanišić are now in the semifinals. Not only that, but the Bundesliga was well represented in Croatia’s entire team, so that’s a win for Germany as well. Lord knows they could use one.
Does Croatia have what it takes to win the World Cup? Who knows, but it would be the perfect present for football fans all around the globe if their little Cinderella story ends with Modrić lifting the trophy high into the air a week later. We shall see what happens. Whatever the case, Croatia well and truly deserved the win today, not to mention the shower of compliments and praise they will undoubtedly get as a result.
P.S. By the way, what was Oliver Kahn doing in the stands?
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