Al Rayyan, Qatar – For 45 minutes, then 90, then another 15 minutes, Brazil tried out all the tools in their sizable arsenal: toe and back-heel pokes, gently bent rollers, and outer-foot slides. As the frustration mounted, it revolved around some of the darker arts of football: diving and flailing, shirt-pulling and shoving, and appealing to the referee for justice.
None of that works. Croatia had drawn a vise into a gunfight and, for more than two hours long on Friday, quietly and methodically pressed on the Lives and Joys of Brazil. Croatia, opponents should know by now, will not get out of the World Cup without a fight.
The Brazilians scored a late goal. The Croats answered with one later. The match went to a penalty shootout. And only then, with eight quick tie-breakers after 120 minutes, could it be over.
Croatia was on its way to the semifinals. Brazil was on its way home. second.
“For me, Brazil is football and football is Brazil,” said Borna Sosa, Croatia’s defender. “Beating against Brazil is probably the best feeling ever.”
Brazil arrived in Qatar last month with the unique goal they set themselves at every World Cup: to win it. Five-time World Cup champions, a nation that believes it has as much a claim to supremacy in the sport it loves, Brazil maneuvered through its first three games on cruise control. His progress was never in doubt after winning his first game with star Neymar in the line-up and defecting the next two while he was sitting out with an ankle injury.
His usual swagger returned on Monday, with a 4-1 win over South Korea marked by superb passing, danceable goal celebrations and the country’s annual predictions reset in the sky.
When everything started to go wrong on Friday, when Neymar’s goal gave Brazil the lead in extra time, players and the nation breathed a sigh of relief. But suddenly, everything went wrong: the Croatian draw, the penalty shootout loss, the quarter-final exit instead of a possible date with Argentina in the semifinals on Tuesday.
“The mistake is that it’s football,” said Alisson, the Brazil goalkeeper. “Anything can happen.”
Many fans and some journalists blamed the Brazil coach for the defeat. After the match, he made quit calls by saying he had already decided to quit his position. Others just turned their backs.
“I don’t see this trophy anymore,” said Andressa Valentim, 26, a forestry engineer who was sobbing in a cafe in Brasilia after the loss. “For me, it’s over.”
Croatia had made their way to the final of the last edition, in Russia in 2018, by surviving three matches that went to extra time, and already winning the penalty shootout in Qatar, against Japan on Monday.
“When it comes to penalty shoot-outs, we become the favourites,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said through an interpreter after their victory over Brazil. “It was as if our opponents had already lost the match at that point,” he said.
The road there was steady, but not straight. Croatia seemed to run out of rope at the end of the first extra period, when Neymar completed a lightning pace and went on to score, giving Brazil a well-deserved, if delayed, lead. Its fans exhale. Her nation did, too.
But Croatia answered that too: a counterattack in the 117th minute, a pass from nowhere into the middle, a powerful shot from Bruno Petkovic deflected to level the score. It was only then that the team’s World Cup quarter-final, scoreless after two halves and no longer so after two periods of extra time, reached where a lot of Croatia’s matches now end: a penalty shootout.
By then even the Brazilians might have sensed the end that was about to come.
Four Croats calmly stepped up and converted penalties. Two of the Brazilians – Rodrygo, who went first, and Markinhos, who went last – did not.
In this way, Brazil, who had led by one foot in the semi-finals with less than 30 minutes remaining, were knocked out.
Can hardly believe it. Marquinhos fell to his knees just in front of the penalty spot and then rested his forehead on the grass. Neymar, who never managed to take his penalty attempt in the penalty shootout, put his hands to his face in midfield, then raised and bit his collar, giving him an incredulous look. Thiago Silva came over and gave him a kiss on the check. Daniel Alves arrived with a hug. A tear fell on Neymar’s cheek.
On the other side of the field, babbling Croatians sprinted in every direction around goalkeeper Dominik Levakovic, who saved a Rodrygo penalty and forced Marquinhos to try and cut his moose.
The unbeaten team, Croatia, will face the winners of Friday’s second match between Argentina and the Netherlands in the semi-finals next week. Set aside some extra time if you plan to watch.
Brazil can’t say they didn’t try everything to win. When Vinicius Jr., Richarlison and Rafina could not find a way past Levakovic, Anthony, Rodrigo and Pedro were sent to try. When Neymar finally found a way to qualify, the lead lasted only about 15 minutes. pressure returned. The exit door loomed.
The Croatian’s penalty shootout was as clinical as its broader performance was methodical. Nikola Vlasic went to the left. Lavro Mager went down the middle. Luka Modric shot high. Mislav Orsic shot low.
When, a moment later, Marquinhos forcefully tested his attempt wide of the left post, the field was quickly flooded with colors of people still trying to figure out what just happened. The Brazilians, favorites who donned their famous yellow jerseys, stood in place or sat to the side, resigned themselves to the fact that the country would now have to wait another four years to add to its record tally of five World Cup titles.
The Croatian red and white celebration was everywhere by then, a random sea of flags, hugs, shirtless men and children running around the field. One of Modric’s children jumped into his arms. Lovren took one of his hands for a walk. And in midfield, Leonardo and Manuela Perisic, sons of Croatian striker Ivan Perisic, made a honeyed line for the center circle, towards Neymar, who was wrapped up in a tearful embrace with one of his teammates.
An employee from Brazil stepped in to avoid Leonardo and extended his arm to suggest that it might not be the right time. But Leonardo caught the eye of Neymar, and the Brazilian turned towards him. The boy and the star held hands. Neymar hugged the boy’s head. They exchanged a quick word. Then they parted, the boy ran away with his sister, back to the Croatian festivities. Neymar quickly headed to the dressing room, heading into another long wait.
James Wagner contributed reporting from Al Rayyan, and Andre Spigariol from Brasilia.
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