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Dominik Livaković stands tall as Croatia stuns Neymar and Brazil

For the first 105 minutes of Friday’s World Cup Quarter-final match between Brazil and Croatia, one player was the difference. Croatia keeper Dominik Livaković. As Brazil’s talented threats pushed forward and pressed the attack, the keeper turned aside threat after threat.

Fittingly, he made a huge stop during penalties as Croatia shocked Brazil to advance at the World Cup.

As noted, the match was level through the first 90 minutes and into stoppage time, thanks to Livaković’s heroics. But you can only hold a talented attack back so long, and that was the case again Friday. Brazil and Neymar eventually broke through, on a beautiful bit of attacking play that seemed like it would send them through to the Semi-finals. But Croatia found an equalizer, setting the stage for a stunning victory for Croatia.

Livaković’s first big stop came at the start of the second half. Brazil pressed forward on the attack, with Raphinha bringing the ball down the right wing. His pass towards the box was then redirected in front of the net, and then deflected towards Livaković, who just managed to keep it out with his right foot:

That was not the first time the Croatian keeper would be tested in the second half. But he managed to keep the score level, parrying aside the Brazilian attempts. Minutes later Neymar would have another shot on goal, after receiving a well-placed pass from Richarlison. But Neymar’s left-footed shot was turned aside by Livaković:

In the 66th minuted, Brazil had another wonderful scoring chance. A loose ball bounced in the box, and Lucas Paquetá was the first to it, putting a right-footed shot on goal. But Livaković, coming off the line, made himself big in front of the goal, and turned Paquetá’s attempt aside:

That would not be the only time Livaković turned Paquetá aside. In the 80th minute, Rodrygo found Paquetá just inside the box, but the Brazilian’s left-footed shot was handled by Livaković:

The match ended regular time level, and the two teams reset for extra time. While possession through the first 90 minutes was rather even, Brazil continued to hold an advantage over Croatia in shots.

But Livaković’s remained the difference through the first 90.

Croatia had a brilliant chance in the 103rd minute, on the counter. Bruno Petkovic pressed forward along the Croatian left flank, and centered a pass for Marcelo Brozovic just inside the box. But Brozovic’s attempt blazed over the bar, keeping the game scoreless:

Finally, however, the quality from Brazil — and Neymar — was too much.

Just as Ian Darke and Landon Donovan began to wonder if the match would have a “magical moment,” Brazil’s star delivered:

This was a beautiful display of passing from Paquetá, Rodrygo, and Neymar himself, as the trio poked and prodded the Croatian defense, before Paquetá finally found Neymar again inside the box. Neymar was then able to avoid the challenge in the box, tip-toeing around the keeper and then roofing his shot to make sure that a crafty defender could not sneak back and deny him the moment.

The goal was Neymar’s 77th for Brazil, putting him level with the legendary Pelé on the nation’s all-time goal list:

Still, the matter was not settled. Croatia still had the final 15 minutes of extra time, along with any additional stoppage time, to level the match and force penalty kicks.

However, the equalizer never came. With the Brazilian fans in full voice, sensing a date in the semi-finals, Croatia could not establish a consistent attack, and struggled to final a quality chance. It felt like the match was slowly slipping away from the 2018 finalists.

But then, lightning struck.

Croatia broke out of their own half, with Nikola Vlasic putting together a quick run before finding Mislav Orsic along the left side. Orsic pressed into the box, before putting a cross along the ground in front of the goal. It set up perfectly for Petkovic, whose left-footed shot found the back of the net, after a deflection:

Here is another angle of the equalizer:

It was Croatia’s latest goal in World Cup history, and what a time for it:

It was enough. A free kick from Neymar in stoppage time gave Brazil one last chance. but Livaković stood tall one more time.

With the match advancing to penalties, Croatia must have felt at home. In their run to the 2018 World Cup Final they advanced twice on penalties, first against Denmark in the round of 16, and then against Russia in the quarter-final.

Would Livaković’s quality during the match carry him — and Croatia — through penalties? Or would Neymar and Brazil break through in the end?

Croatia scored first, with Vlasic converting with a rocket of a shot right down the middle, up high to make it difficult to save. Rodrygo was first for Brazil, and Livaković again stood tall, turning the right-footed shot aside:

Up next was Lovro Majer for Croatia, who came on as a substitute. He, like Vlasic, put his shot down the middle. But it worked, to give Croatia the 2-0 advantage.

That put the pressure on Casemiro for Brazil. But he calmly stepped to the spot and converted to cut Croatia’s advantage to 2-1.

Luka Modric was up next for Croatia, and he converted the third chance for Croatia with a right-footed shot into the left corner:

The next from Croatia came from Orsic, who earlier played a huge role on the Croatian equalizer. And he converted his chance, putting all the pressure on Brazil:

It was up to Marquinhos. He needed to convert for Brazil to have any chance of advancing.

He did not:

His right-footed shot rocketed off the bar, denying him and Brazil their chance of winning the World Cup.

For the third time in two World Cups, Croatia advance through to the next round on penalties. Now they await the winner of the match between Argentina and the Netherlands, for a chance to return to the World Cup Final.

And for Brazil it will be a long, agonizing four years before a shot at redemption.

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