Brazil, football’s perennial kingpins, bowed out of Qatar sensationally with an unforgettable 4-2 penalty-kick loss to Croatia.
This despite a historic Neymar goal that put the superstar forward level with Pelé for Brazil’s national team scoring record.
Brazil head coach Tite said: “We were just too over-confident and this will be a lesson to learn as we move forward. We have won a record five World Cups, though not since 2002 – when beating Germany 2-0 in the final – have we lifted the most famous trophy.”
Ironically, the South American giant has been unbeaten in its past 15 group matches, winning 12, and have topped their pool in each edition since 1982.
POOR FORM BRAZIL
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.
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.
CAUGHT OFF GUARD
“We were caught unguarded and we must not moan but pick up the pieces,” said Tite.
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.
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.
In terms of population, there’s no contest between Brazil and Croatia.
”Brazil has 200 million people, we only have four million,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said. ”So we are pretty much like a suburb of a major city in Brazil.”
Indeed, Croatia is one of the least populous countries who qualified for this World Cup. But on the field, however, Croatia has been punching above its weight for years, ever since it finished third in 1998 in its first World Cup as an independent nation, right up to reaching the 2018 final in Russia.
”Brazil will now know never to underestimate Croatia. Croatia is a small nation. But we are brave, defiant and loyal,” Dalic said. ”We will always give everything we’ve got, especially this generation of players.”
Can Croatia now be the biggest spoilers in Qatar as they go down the final stretch?
Your guess is as good as mine as what matters is how well you perform in every new match…as England found out, too, in their defeat by France.
* Suresh Nair is an award-winning sports journalist who is also a qualified international coach and international referee instructor
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