|Host country: Qatar Dates: November 20-December 18 Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Daily TV programs – Full coverage details|
The World Cup loves an unlikely hero – the difference with Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic is that he has now played that role twice in five days.
He may not have been the biggest name in his country’s squad when they arrived in Qatar, but he has been vital in their progress to the semi-finals.
In a tournament with a rich history of penalty kicks, saving penalty kicks has become Livakovic’s speciality, and he now has quite the collection from the past week.
As if saving three of them in his side’s last-16 shootout win over Japan on Monday wasn’t enough, he followed that up by helping to topple tournament favorites Brazil on Friday in perhaps the biggest shock in history to date. Qatar was served.
Livakovic only saved one shootout this time, but it was still decisive: after brilliantly denying Rodrygo to keep out Brazil’s first penalty, Croatia scored all four penalties and the victory was sealed when Marquinhos hit the post.
“He did what he had to do,” said Croatian boss Zlatko Dalic afterwards. “He saved the first penalty which gave us confidence and created a lack of confidence for Brazil because they were afraid he would save another one.
“But he made the difference for us throughout the game. Brazil created some chances through their quality and speed, but he prevented goals because he was in top form – he was there in the crucial moments to save us.”
Marquinhos’ miss was the signal for the entire Croatian squad to sprint in Livakovic’s honor, and he still looked a little shocked when he came out to address the media after the game, proudly holding his trophy as a player of the match.
The 27-year-old Dinamo Zagreb star also deserved it. The only member of Croatia’s starting eleven to play his club football in his home country, he made 11 saves over the course of 120 minutes to keep Brazil at bay.
Livakovic was finally beaten by Neymar’s beautifully taken goal in extra time – but substitute Bruno Petkovic’s equalizer gave him another chance to shine and he joined Argentina’s Sergio Goycochea, Germany’s Harald Schumacher and his compatriot Danijel Subasic as the only goalkeepers in World Cup history. four shootout saves.
When asked how he and his teammates had the mental strength to achieve a second success in a row in such a nerveless manner, Livakovic explained: “First of all, we are experienced – and we were raised as fighters.
“We spare no effort, we do our best – and that’s the recipe for success.”
A new hero – and an old master
If Livakovic is Croatia’s newest hero, the 2018 runner-up also had an old master to thank after reaching the last four for a second consecutive World Cup.
At 37, Luka Modric should really be over his best, but the midfield magician once again shone on the biggest stage at Education City Stadium.
His influence was vital for the 90 minutes and into extra time too – before he got up to calmly slide one of Croatia’s penalties into the bottom corner of the net.
“Again, Luka led for 120 minutes and was at the head of the team,” said Dalic. “It’s incredible how he plays for his age and he wasn’t tired.
“When we fell behind, we thought about replacing a midfielder and asked him what his situation was, and he said he was totally ready.
“He has shown again that he is one of the best players in the world and I think the reason he can do that now is his professionalism. He is a fantastic player and person.
“When we came to this World Cup, people wrote him off, but he came back in his best light and he got us to the semi-finals.
“This is one of the biggest wins ever; this was a great game from our team.
“Tactically, Brazil were very skillful and smart and they were in control all game, but even when we conceded a goal, we came back and showed what this Croatian team is all about.
“We are great fighters, and now we have the strength to go through to the semi-finals. We will relax, recover and prepare for that match.”
How Croatia reacted
Petkovic’s 117th-minute equalizer came with Croatia’s first shot on target, and was the last they have scored in a World Cup since their tournament debut in 1998.
Their subsequent success on penalties was probably less shocking – they have now won all four of their shootouts at World Cups, tying Germany’s record as the nation to hold a 100% record over the highest number of matches.
But football analysts Gracenote still called their victory over the five-time champions the second biggest surprise in World Cup knockout history – giving Croatia only a 30.3% chance of success before kick-off.
A little more predictably, their victory at home was much appreciated.
“Yes, yes, yes!!! Croatia is in the semi-finals of the World Cup!” was the Croatian public broadcaster HRT’s response.
“If you thought all Croatia’s games so far have been dramatic because of penalties, today’s game against Brazil is beyond description.” said the broadcaster.
Croatian newspaper Vecernji list agreed that the match was a “new drama” for the team, adding that they came out as “big winners”.
“Fantastic Croatia played a match to remember and defeated the mighty Brazil,” it added. “Let’s go to the semifinals.”
And their neighbors also celebrated the victory Serbian website Telegraf hail Livakovic as the hero of the match.
“Who is goalkeeper Livakovic, the miracle in Croatia’s goal? Thanks to him, Croatia is in the semi-finals of the World Cup!” it said.
The last word goes to Serbian website Sportal, who described the shootout as “memorable penalties, unreal Livakovic, and everyone so cool: that’s how the Croats destroyed the Brazilians.”
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