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World Cup 2022
12 min read

How Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia Managed to Pull off an Upset Win Against Brazil

Croatia are the first team through to the semi-finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup after defeating Brazil on penalty shoot-out at the Education City Stadium.

At the same venue that saw Luis Enrique"s Spain get knocked out by Morroco on penalties, Croatia prevailed on Thursday evening booking the first semi-final spot and setting up a potential meeting with either Argentina or the Netherlands.

Neymar found the deadlock right at the end of the first half of extra time, linking up with Lucas Paqueta, sidestepping Sosa and finshing past Livakovic and equalling Pele"s 77 national goals in the process but Bruno Petkovic"s deflected strike in the 116th minute meant the game was heading to extra time.

Croatia converted all four of their penalty kicks while the Brazilians missed two, Rodrygo"s saved by Livakovic and Marquinhos" hitting the bar.

There"s much to say after the 2018 World Cup runners up shocked the 5-time Champions, in an intriguing campaign, one that"s being full of surprises for the big boys of national football.

Brazil owned the game but ultimately Croatia owned the tie and the right to progress. Tite"s men experienced a lot of discomfort throughout the course of normal play. It was expected to be a hard-fought victory if Selecao were ever going to win, it was not going to be a cakewalk for Brazil but Croatia more than lived up to their expectations, as a matter of fact, surpassing them to knock-out the heavy favourites.

Croatia"s master plan

The Vatreni made life on the pitch really difficult for the 5-time champions. Vinicius Jr in particular couldn"t find that form he had in the matches leading up till tonight. On the defence, Dalic"s men were really good. On the attack, they were average.

Closing down the left flank

Vinicius Jr wallowed through a frustrating evening. The left flank on which he played was the less viable flank, and as soon as the Madrid man had the ball rolling out on his wing, he was closed down by checkered shirts, sometimes up to four. Dalic"s men were aware of the threat in letting loose this flank; from which both goals in Brazil"s 2-1 against Serbia had come from, and dealt well with it, taming attacks from out wide.
Vinicius did have to drift into the centre but still couldn"t do so much for his team and ultimately had to be taken off for Rodrygo.

The story was quite similar with Vinicius" club teammate, Croatia weren"t going to unlock the flanks, having them firmly closed, the Vatreni would always swarm the wingers when they made a run.

Neymar did find the goal Brazil needed right at the end of the first period of extra time but the Croatians didn"t give up producing a strike of their own about 11 minutes later. Brazil thought they had gotten the win here, were just too relaxed in defence and that cost them the equaliser and the strike ultimately. They would definitely be kicking themselves about this loss. Even though Neymar"s strike meant he equalled Pele"s 77 national goals, Vatreni spoilt a fine night to rejoice.

Luka Modric"s magic

Luka Modric may be 37 but the Madrid man definitely still has it. With the exemption of Livakovic"s heroic saves and stops, the Ballon d"Or winner was at his best tonight. Playing at the heart of a Croatian team with a lot of solid passes, Modric was almost everywhere on the pitch. His work rate was noteworthy, he played much as a box-to-box midfielder, connecting the defence to the attack. Modric can be very attack minded in some games but led by example against Brazil, sitting deep at times when the Croatian line surged. He helped link up the defence with the attack and also Brozovic and Kovacic, building up play with his exceptional passes, driving up the pitch.

Dominik Livakovic: A brick wall

Speaking of Livakovic, the Croatian goalie pulled off some really important saves to keep the Brazilians out. He denied Neymar, Paqueta, Casemiro, making a lot of heroic stops to ensure his country remained alive in the tie. Only four days after thwarting Japan in the Round of 16, he did the same against Brazil, also saving Rodrygo"s penalty kick; the first, which could have unsettled the Brazilians for the rest of their spotkicks. In the end, Livakovic came away with the Budweiser man of the match award, after he had done the same against Japan. Dalic"s men definitely couldn"t have done without him out there. A real heir to Danijel Subasic, the hero of Croatia"s penalty-shootout last 16 triumph over Denmark at the 2018 World Cup.

Dalic has reformed this Croatian side

Despite the fact that prior to the match, Brazil had a 100% World Cup win record against the Europeans, Dalic"s side featured a Croatia different from the ones that had faced the Selecao in previous meetings. Since his taking over the reins of the Blazers, Dalic has really impressed, guiding them to at least the quarter finals of all the major competitions; including a second place finish at Russia 2018, a quarter-final appearance at Euro 2020 and also making the semis here at Qatar 2022.

Croatia, a team often underestimated, but yet keep shocking the whole world, have won their past five World Cup knock-out fixtures in at least extra time. As a matter of fact, four have been won on penalties, while only the semi-final win over England came at the end of extra time.

Real credit to Croatia, despite facing heartbreak at the hands of the French in Luzhniki four years ago, they"ve shown grit and so much resilience to get back on track. It"s really difficult for a team of their status to make two consecutive World Cup semi-finals and they"ve done just that, proving they"re well over their 2018 nemesis and are ready to once again go for glory here at Qatar 2022.

Croatia will take on the winner of the Netherlands versus Argentina fixture on Tuesday at the Lusail Iconic Stadium.

Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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