It had looked as though Neymar had won it for Brazil after he scored a stunning solo goal in extra-time – tying Pele’s international scoring record for the Seleção with his 77th goal – but Bruno Petković broke Brazilian hearts with a last-gasp equalizer to send the game to penalties.
It was Croatia’s goalkeeper Dominik Livaković who was the hero yet again in the shootout, saving Rodrygo’s first effort before defender Marquinhos saw his attempt hit the post which sent Croatia through to the semifinals. Livaković also saved three penalties in his side’s victory against Japan in the previous round.
“Definitely something special against the favorite,” Croatia defender Dejan Lovren told reporters after the match.
“We said in the last half of the last 15 minutes, don’t stop believing. Everyone said that and we knew it. We knew we would come back no matter how hard it was in some moments.”
It was dizzying end to another remarkable game in Qatar which took until extra-time to really get going.
After it dazzling display against South Korea in the round of 16, Brazil was taken into the trenches by Croatia.
The game was largely reduced to scrappy half chances and resolute defending as Livaković saved twice from Neymar to keep the scores level in the second half.
With neither side able to find the breakthrough, the match went into extra-time which automatically favored Croatia.
At the World Cup in 2018, Zlatko Dalić’s team won three knockout rounds after forcing the game into extra-time and it beat Japan on penalties in the previous round in Qatar.
But it looked as though Neymar had upset that particular script when he produced arguably the moment of the tournament so far.
The star attacker dropped deep to pick up the ball before splitting the Croatian defense with two bounce passes with teammates before firing his effort into the roof of the net.
The goal sparked frenzied celebration inside the Education City Stadium with Neymar close to tears after seemingly inspiring his side into the semifinals.
But football can be cruel and Croatia never gave up.
In the 116th minute, Petković stunned Brazil by sweeping home the equalizer and forcing the game into penalties with his side’s first shot on target.
Despite being captain and his team’s star player, Neymar did not take a penalty with Croatia – which has now won four World Cup shootouts – scoring all of its efforts before Brazil could even take its fifth.
Croatia, the beaten finalists in 2018, will now face either Argentina or the Netherlands for a place in the World Cup final, while Brazil will be left to come to terms with another missed opportunity.
Brazilian fans looked stunned at the full-time whistle while tears flowed from the players on the pitch.
It’s already been a World Cup of upsets and this was another to add to the list.
Brazil was the top-ranked team at the World Cup and possessed an incredible array of talent, with the likes of Neymar and Vinícius Jr. lighting up the tournament.
But it faced a Croatia side which, despite not impressing so far in Qatar, knows how to win knockout matches.
With a population of less than four million people, Croatia has overachieved in recent years and midfield maestro Luka Modrić has been at the heart of it.
The 37-year-old was yet again at the center of Croatia’s performance against Brazil, pulling the strings in midfield and keeping his side ticking over against opponents with far more quality.
“We are really special,” Lovren added.
“We never surrendered. Never keeping our head down. We are a really a small country but today we showed that we are big.”