For those of us who remember the classic Queen song and its lyrics, Brazil bites the dust following a somewhat surprising quarter-final defeat to Croatia 4-2 on penalties. Marquinhos joins an unfortunate list that includes Zico, Chris Waddle, Roberto Baggio, and David Trezeguet in missing a crucial penalty. It’s the fourth time in five tournaments that Brazil has lost in the quarterfinal. Brazil is “another one gone, another one gone, another one bites the dust” following the shocking elimination of Spain and Uruguay in the previous round.
Richarlison was effectively curtailed by Josko Gvardiol, Dejan Lovren and Borna Sosa held Vinicius and Raphinha. Both Morocco and Belgium could not score against Croatia. Neymar was quietened by Marcelo Brozović and Mateo Kovačić. Brazil’s attack struggled and when they did attempt to shoot, these were blocked by the super shot stopper Dominik Livakovic. With nine saves in regular time, Livakovic had a record-making outing for Croatia. He essentially kept them in the match.
Cue extra time. Neymar lived up to his superstar billing with a well-taken chance. He equals Pele’s men’s goal-scoring record of 77 for the Selecao. 1-0 Brazil! It seemed to be the death knell for Croatia. But football always throws up the unexpected. In the 117th minute, Luka Modric started the move that ended with a Bruno Petkovic equaliser. The rest is history. Brazil is out, and Croatia marches on into the semi-finals.
In the evening’s other semi-final, two nations with a respectable FIFA World Cup pedigree, Netherlands and Argentina faced each other for the sixth time. Few other fixtures have been as repeatedly played. The oldest and the youngest coach at Qatar led their sides into the stadium. Every time Argentina has gone out in a World Cup, it has been to a European side. Would this time be different?
A goal and a Messi penalty that saw him equal Gabriel Batistuta on 10 World Cup goals for Argentina, put them 2-0 up. There was despair on the faces of the Dutch fans. Wout Weghorst pulled one back. The game started to get bad-tempered as shoves, confrontations and yellow cards followed. Ten minutes of injury time was announced. A rash tackle by German Pezzella led to a free kick converted by Weghorst in the 101st minute. It’s a contender for goal of the tournament: 2-2. Game on!
Extra time limped on, and the deadlock could not be broken. For the second time this evening, penalties would have to decide the semi-finalist. A bold Van Dijk showed leadership to take the first penalty and it was unfortunately saved, as was the next. Advantage Argentina. The much-maligned Lautaro Martinez converted the last penalty to put Argentina through to the semi-finals 4-3. Peter Drury was at his poetic best – “Messi’s still alive, Argentina is still alive. The Dutch, dumbfounded, confounded, and heading home.”
I always say there’s a football analogy in everything, a living example to be learned from the Beautiful Game. Croatia didn’t seem to come to play football. They came to stifle Brazil and to potentially lead the game into penalties where their goalkeeper, Dominik might have a good chance to stop one or two.
Opportunities will not look for you, you have to take charge. One missed chance and everything can go up in smoke. Brazil had many chances that were stopped. However, once you fail to bury those chances, you might not be in control of your destiny. Zlatko Dalić’s side took the one chance they had to give themselves a lifeline and they ultimately triumphed. Brazil’s game management after being a goal-up during extra time could have been better. The lesson – consolidate your position so that you don’t give the opposition a window to hurt you.
Never give up – Croatia continued their slow burn eyeing up any opportunity. When it came, they took it. One shot on target in nearly 2 hours of football played and one goal was the result. The goal was the game-changer.
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Work to your strengths – The Croatian side knew that their goalkeeper was a priceless asset. They worked on their defensive duties such that Brazil could barely find a way through.
Tenacity – Argentina was understandably despondent with the last-minute equaliser to take the game into extra time, but they showed grit and focus, thereby prevailing. The mental strength needed to push yourself for another thirty minutes in a game that they thought they had won is to be admired. Remaining on mental strength, Messi scored two penalties after missing one in the group stages. It must be a herculean effort to hold that ball and step onto the spot with the weight of your nation’s expectations on your shoulders. He showed real leadership. He remains a very important person for his team.
Argentina will face Croatia in the semi-finals. The other two semi-finalists will be decided in approximately twenty-four hours.
To borrow from Queen again, who will be singing “We are the Champions” at the Lusail Stadium on 18th December? The jury’s out.