Brazil have crashed out of the FIFA World Cup after a 4-2 penalty shootout defeat to Croatia on a night of high drama at the Education City Stadium in Doha.
Superstar forward Neymar looked to have clinched Brazil’s place in the last four in Qatar when he found the net after starting and finishing an intricate passing move to fire beyond Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic just before half-time in extra time to give his team a 1-0 lead.
The strike equaled Brazil legend Pele’s record haul of 77 goals for the national team – but the Paris Saint-Germain player will be waiting a while to break the record after Bruno Petkovic’s dramatic late equalizer brought the game to a spot-kick lottery.
There, it was the Croats who held firm – with Marquinhos missing the crucial penalty to consign Brazil to World Cup heartbreak, and send Croatia once again into the semifinals.
It was arguably no more than Croatia deserved.
Brazil’s star-studded lineup huffed and puffed throughout but couldn’t carve out any clear-cut chances, despite dominating possession in the second half of regulation time.
Croatia, losing finalists four years ago in Moscow, defended sternly throughout with Zenit St Petersburg star defender Dejan Lovren and the highly-rated Josko Gvardiol forming an impressive partnership in front of Livakovic’s goal.
But their efforts appeared to be for naught when Neymar’s moment of magic delighted the legions of yellow shirts in the stadium with his sensational finish.
Croatia, propelled throughout by the evergreen Luka Modric, refused to throw in the towel and finally got the breakthrough that their efforts deserved when Petkovic leveled the scores to send the game to a penalty shootout.
Rodrygo was first up but was denied by the outstanding Livakovic, setting the tone for the remainder of the shootout.
Croatia were faultless and with the pressure reaching fever pitch, Marquinhos’ decisive penalty rebounded off the post – and with it, Brazil’s hopes of a sixth World Cup faded into nothingness.
For Croatia, their remarkable run in World Cup penalty shootouts continues, and they have now swept past Denmark, Russia, Japan and now Brazil in this and the previous World Cup.
The record books, meanwhile, will reflect Neymar’s record-equaling goal – but the PSG star’s tears suggest that it will be little more than a hollow accolade on one of the most disappointing nights of his career.