Sunday, February 5, 2023

Croatia oust favourites Brazil 4-2 on penalties to reach semi-final

Croatia oust favourites Brazil 4-2 on penalties to reach semi-final

DOHA (Reuters) - Croatia stunned favourites Brazil 4-2 on penalties on Friday to reach the World Cup semi-finals for the second time in a row after battling back from a goal down in extra time, in one of the biggest knockout-phase upsets in the tournament's history.

The 2018 runners-up came through their second straight shootout after beating Japan on penalties in the last 16 and will now face either the Netherlands or Argentina, who were playing each other in the later game.

In an evening filled with tension and drama, Brazil superstar Neymar thought he had won it for the five-time champions when he rifled in an extra-time goal.

But Brazil were punished for letting their guard down, with substitute Bruno Petkovic drilling in an 117th-minute equaliser with their one and only shot on target, breaking Brazilian hearts in the Education City Stadium.

The Croats, who needed two shootouts and an extra-time win to reach the final in 2018 and now have a perfect four-out-of-four record in World Cup penalty shootouts, kept their composure as Brazil's Marquinhos and Rodrygo failed to convert.

"This is just for the Croatian people," said coach Zlatko Dalic. "A great match from the first minute to the last. We eliminated the biggest favourites. This is not the end for us, let's keep going."

"This is a victory for all of us, everyone gave their best. Thanks also to those on the bench, who also live for this national team."

"I am overjoyed that we, with a 3-1/2 million population, are entering the semi-finals for the second time in a row. I will tell everyone now to say 'We are not normal'."

NOT INTIMIDATED

Croatia refused to be intimidated by their more illustrious opponents, and in the first half successfully stifled most Brazil moves.

Apart from a weak Vinicius Jr. shot, Brazil had little to offer in terms of attack with Neymar off the pace and shut out by a hard-working backline.

It was Croatia who looked sharper, more skilled in their passing game and with a precise game plan, and by the end of the first half they had the upper hand in terms of possession.