AL RAYYAN – When it comes down to a penalty shootout at the World Cup, count on Croatia to make it through.
Twice already at the tournament in Qatar and twice four years ago in Russia, the Croats had to steel themselves for one of the toughest — and certainly one of the cruelest — tests in soccer.
They won all four of them.
The latest shootout knocked five-time champion Brazil out of the World Cup on Friday. Croatia won 4-2 after a 1-1 draw through extra time.
“We have demonstrated what Croatia is, what the Croatia team is,” said Zlatko Dalić, the coach who led the squad through all four of those shootouts. “We are a small country and we won against the greatest favorites at the World Cup.”
Neymar and his teammates should have known what was coming at Education City Stadium.
Croatia needed penalties to beat Denmark in the round of 16 four years ago, then defeated host Russia by the same means in the quarterfinals before eventually losing to France in regulation time in the final. This year, Japan was sent home in the round of 16 after 1-1 draw before Brazil followed in yet another shootout.
Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic got things started on Friday, saving the opening penalty attempt from Rodrygo. Croatia converted all four of its penalty kicks, with captain Luka Modric third in line.
It came down to Marquinhos to keep Brazil in the tournament but he hit the post before dropping to his knees, crestfallen.
“We are raised as fighters, giving our best,” Livakovic said. ”And that’s the recipe for success.”
Livakovic had made several key saves throughout the match, but Neymar gave Brazil the lead at the end of the first half of extra time. Croatia substitute Bruno Petkovic equalized in the 117th minute.
That was a key goal, no question, but Livakovic was the key player.
“He was the difference in crucial moments that saved us,” Dalić said. “He saved the first penalty and gave us confidence and a lack of confidence for the rival because they were afraid he would save them again. He made a difference through the whole match.”
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports