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'Don't Stop Believing,' Say Croats Before Knocking Out Brazil


Croatia players celebrate as Brazil's Marquinhos, right, missed a penalty kick to secure the World Cup victory for Croatia on Dec. 9, 2022.

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic had said facing a Brazilian side firing on all cylinders in a World Cup quarterfinal was a terrifying prospect.

But the only terror seen at Education City Stadium on Friday was etched on the faces of the Brazilian team and their supporters along with shock and disbelief as gritty Croatia came back from 1-0 in extra time to claim a 4-2 penalty shootout victory and with it a spot in the semifinals.

"As to the penalty shootout we are fighters, we played our hearts out and that's it," said Croatia keeper Dominik Livakovic, who was named man of the match. "We are experienced, and we are raised as fighters.

"We spare no effort giving our best, and that is our recipe for success.”

Croatia earned a spot in the final four and is one win away from an immediate return to the tournament's final.

The 2018 runner-up had appeared headed for the exit when Neymar produced a moment of solo magic scoring in extra time to give the five-time champions a 1-0 lead with just 15 minutes to play.

But Croatia, who needed penalties to get past Japan in the round of 16, again showed their iron will, hitting back with an equalizer from substitute Bruno Petkovic, who hammered home a shot in the 117th minute to keep them alive.

In the shootout it was the Croatians keeping their cool and composure from the penalty spot as Brazil wilted under the pressure with Marquinhos and Rodrygo failing to convert.

Croatia's goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic stops a penalty kick from Brazil's Rodrygo in a World Cup match in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Dec. 9, 2022.
Croatia's goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic stops a penalty kick from Brazil's Rodrygo in a World Cup match in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Dec. 9, 2022.

"This was definitely something special against the favorites. [Brazil are] a fantastic team," said Croatian defender Dejan Lovren. "We said in the last half of the last 15 minutes: Don't stop believing.

"Everybody said that. We knew we would come back in this game, no matter how hard. We are really special."

Croatia are no strangers to operating under pressure.
In 2018 they needed two shootouts and an extra-time win to reach the final.

Despite that runner-up performance in 2018, few were giving the talented but aging side much chance of getting beyond the round of 16 in Qatar.

The road looked at a dead end going up against a star-studded Brazil side that danced their way into the quarterfinals oozing confidence.

That confidence was quickly shaken by a rough and tumble Croatian team that refused to give ground, denying Neymar and company the space to work their brilliance.

Brazil's Neymar, left, and Dani Alves are dejected after losing the penalty shootout to Croatia in the World Cup on Dec. 9, 2022.
Brazil's Neymar, left, and Dani Alves are dejected after losing the penalty shootout to Croatia in the World Cup on Dec. 9, 2022.

In the end it was determination and self-belief that prevailed as Croatia refused to wave the white flag.

"We conceded the goal and then we came back once again and we demonstrated what does it mean not to surrender," said Dalic. "We demonstrated what Croatia is, what the Croatian team is. This is great success.

"This is the second World Cup semifinals and we are a small country and won against the greatest favorites.

"I'm very glad they played the way they played and they are great fighters. Only Croats can do that."

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