Qatar 2022: Livakovic’s heroics come clutch for Croatia, Brazil out

CROATIA took the glory on Friday in the penalty shootout against Brazil and became the first team to advance to the tournament’s semi-finals.

Croatia had garnered notoriety for playing the long game. Eight of their last nine tournament knock-out games had gone to extra time. They only warded off Japan in penalty shootout in the previous round of this tournament.

Dominik Livaković had thwarted all of Brazil’s efforts at goal throughout the game. The 27-year-old Dinamo Zagreb player saved several one-on-ones during the game and pulled another stop in the penalty shootout to see his team through. The goalkeeper diverted a staggering 11 shots during the game.

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Four days ago, the Croat also came clutch, saving three spot kicks. The European side had maintained their impeccable record in penalty shootouts — winning all four they had been involved in.

Neymar had finished off a beautifully crafted move in the first half of extra time and seemingly positioned Brazil for a semi-final spot. However, a reinvigorated Croatia dug deep and pulled one back in the 115th minute of the game.

How the game went

Brazil looked the most dangerous across the game but could not find a breakthrough in regulation minutes. By the end of the extra time, they had 21 shots worth over 2.6 expected goals but only had one goal to their name. Livaković’s goal-line heroics were vital to this situation.

Expected goals (XG) measure the quality of a chance (or shot) by calculating the likelihood that it will be scored from a particular position on the pitch. Generally, shots taken closer to goal have a higher XG value.

Opta’s expected goal map, which tabs the value of all shots taken by either team, depicts Brazil’s dominance. The South American team had several big chances but could not make them count.

XG Map for Croatia vs Brazil (from Opta)

Despite the dominance, Brazil found it hard to create danger from wide areas. The two Croatian fullbacks, Josip Juranović and Borna Sosa, held their ground for most of the game against the Seleção wingers.

Eventually, in the 105th minute of extra time, Neymar broke the deadlock. The Brazilian initiated two consecutive one-twos outside the box before breaking through on goal, rounded the keeper and smashed the ball into the roof of the net. With this goal, he equaled Pele’s record for all-time goals for Brazil (77) and appeared to have won the game for his side.

Croatia came out of their blocks again at the start of the second half of extra time and turned the momentum in their favour — as indicated by Opta’s momentum map below.

Match momentum for Croatia vs Brazil (from Opta)

Brazil’s failure to slow and manage the game created counterattack opportunities for the Croatians, and they found an equalizer. Substitute Bruno Petkovic connected with a header that deflected off Marquinhos to bring the score level. Remarkably, the goal was Croatia’s first shot on target in the entire game.

The European side eventually sealed victory after Marquinhos struck the base of the post in a decisive penalty. Rodygro’s miss and Croatia’s decisiveness in the shootout meant that the latter could celebrate.



    What next?

    Luka Modric, now 37 years old, added another tale to his legacy, putting on an incredible all-action performance. He directed his side’s possession play throughout the game and was vital to moving the ball forward. The Real Madrid man is timeless and is at the forefront of yet another world cup charge.

    Modric’s performance metrics (from @/markstatsbot)

    After the game, Modric told journalists that he tried consoling his club teammate Rodrygo after his penalty miss: “I missed a penalty vs Turkey in Euro 2008. I told Rodrygo everyone misses penalties.”

    Croatia will face the winner of the match between the Netherlands and Argentina in the semi-finals.

    For Brazil, a two-decade wait for a sixth world cup title drags on.

    Joel currently monitors and writes stories affecting the local political and sports atmosphere. In his spare time, he strives to accentuate data privacy legislation on the continent.

    Additionally, Joel regularly curates tactical analyses on football–check his Twitter page (@crunchpick) for more.

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