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Croatia stuns top-ranked Brazil to advance to the World Cup semifinals

Bruno Petković of Croatia celebrates after evening the game 1-1 in extra time against Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinals on December 09, 2022 in Al Rayyan, Qatar.
Lars Baron
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Bruno Petković of Croatia celebrates after evening the game 1-1 in extra time against Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinals on December 09, 2022 in Al Rayyan, Qatar.

DOHA, Qatar — There's been an epic upset at the World Cup in Qatar.

Croatia beat tournament favorite and #1 world ranked Brazil 1-1 (4-2) in a gut-wrenching penalty kick shootout.

Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livaković, who blocked three shots in an earlier shootout with Japan, blocked the first kick, by Brazilian forward Rodrygo. From there, Croatia was successful on four straight shots. When veteran defender Marquinhos stepped up for Brazil's fourth attempt, he needed to convert or the match was over. His shot hit the left post, and the Croatian team erupted in joy.

Meanwhile, Brazilian fans clad in the team's iconic yellow jerseys stood in stunned silence. Their beloved, favored team suddenly was out of the World Cup.

Those expecting another dance-filled romp by the showy Brazilian side didn't do their homework on Croatia.

The Croats favor a grinding, possession-heavy style, with one of the world's best midfields controlling the ball and launching attacks. Their games have tended to be drawn out affairs, with their ball control and their stellar defense yielding little to opponents.

In fact, Friday's contest was the 5th of Croatia's last 6 matches in the World Cup knockout round that went to extra time.

For Brazilian fans wondering where the goals were from their brilliant offensive attackers, Croatia had given up only two during the entire tournament.

Friday night's first 90 minutes saw repeated Brazilian attacks and shots on goal, several by star forward Neymar. But each one was repelled by stout Croatian defense or Livaković. In the second half alone, Brazil had ten shots on goal.

But for all its highlight grabbing offense, Brazil's defense is, and was, outstanding as well. Brazil also had given up only two goals in the tournament leading up to Friday, and its defense didn't even let Croatia get close enough for quality scoring chances. They only attempted three in the second half, and none were on target.

But finally, Brazil broke through in stoppage time of the first half of extra time. Another relentless charge at the Croatian goal paid off for Neymar, as he and Brazilian midfielder Lucas Paquetá worked a beautiful give-and-go play. Neymar passed to Paquetá, who passed it back, and then it was a matter of Neymar creating the opening around Livaković, who slid at the ball while Neymar darted to the side and chipped in the score.

The goal, the 77th of Neymar's career, tied him with the legendary star Pelé for most international goals by a Brazilian men's player.

Relieved Brazilian fans roared their approval from Education City Stadium in Doha to Rio de Janeiro.

But then that turned to stunned silence with the second half of extra time winding down.

In the 117th minute, Croatia went on the attack, and from the left side of the field, forward Mislav Oršić sent a crossing pass to the middle. Another forward, Bruno Petković, collected and fired in a left-footed shot for the equalizer.

From there, it was on to the not-for-the-faint-of-heart shootout, stunningly won by the team in their own iconic red-checked jerseys. For Brazil, it was their sixth loss at the quarterfinals. Four of those defeats have come during the last five World Cups.

Croatia, a finalist at the last World Cup, now moves into the semifinals of this one, to play the winner of the Friday late match between Argentina and the Netherlands.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Croatia players celebrate their win via a penalty shootout as Marquinhos of Brazil reacts to missing his kick during the World Cup quarterfinal match between Croatia and Brazil.
Buda Mendes / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Croatia players celebrate their win via a penalty shootout as Marquinhos of Brazil reacts to missing his kick during the World Cup quarterfinal match between Croatia and Brazil.

Tom Goldman
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.