What do record world champions Brazil, co-favorite Belgium and Germany-victor Japan have in common? All three nations are no longer allowed to play at the World Cup in Qatar after a duel with Croatia - Seleção, Rode Duivels and Blue Samurai did not regularly lose against the 2018 World Cup runners-up.
Luka Modric's team made it through to the semi-finals after two penalties and a clean sheet in the last group game. This takes place on Tuesday (8 p.m.) against Argentina and Lionel Messi. What are the trump cards of coach Zlatko Dalic's team, who led the small country to the World Cup final four years ago?
Not the eliminated Manuel Neuer or Alisson Becker, but Dominik Livakovic is the goalkeeper of the tournament so far. The Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper has already saved three penalties against Japan, this time he thwarted various big chances from Neymar and Co. and saved Rodrygo's penalty. "We're very experienced at penalties, that's our recipe for success," said Livakovic. The 27-year-old watched Daniel Subasic become a penalty hero four years ago in Russia. Now he is himself.
This man is a phenomenon. The 37-year-old was already in the squad for the 2006 World Cup, back then alongside Niko and Robert Kovac and Josip Simunic. He reached the provisional peak in 2018, when he led his team into the World Cup final. Recently, after his early substitution against Japan, there was a lot of debate as to whether Modric still had enough in the tank in Qatar. He now gave the answer against Brazil, when he was at the top for 120 minutes and then converted a penalty with precision. The Real Madrid star "set the rhythm," said Dalic. "It's amazing how great he's playing. He wasn't tired."
Dalic's plan works
Against the tournament's top favorites with ball artists like Richarlison, Vinícius Júnior and Neymar, Croatia's coach Dalic had only one motto: close behind and hope for a good moment in front. At least the first part went well for 105 minutes, then a stroke of genius from Neymar threatened to shatter all dreams. But joker Bruno Petkovic managed to equalize with a deflected shot that was hardly considered possible.
Saving themselves on penalties was apparently Croatia's dream scenario. It was achieved with a bit of luck and a strong Livakovic, who prevented further goals against Brazil's offensive. "Only Croatians can do that. We have strong characters, we don't give up," said Dalic. With their vehemence and defensive discipline, the Croatians were reminiscent of Morocco, who eliminated co-favorite Spain with a similar approach on Tuesday - also on penalties.
nerves and experience
In 90 minutes, Croatia does not make it in a knockout round of the World Cup - that was the case in 2018 and is now being repeated. And in the end, the winner of the game of nerves is almost always Croatia. This is no surprise for assistant coach Ivica Olic. "I was pretty sure we could do it again because we have a world-class goalkeeper. There were also seven or eight shooters who wanted to shoot," said Olic. Evidence: Mislav Orsic was the only player to take penalties against Japan and Brazil. Otherwise the shooters changed.
The point of experience also plays an important role for the Croatians. Modric was strong against Brazil despite his advanced age, with the resurgent Dejan Lovren and round of 16 goalscorer Ivan Perisic also having their moments in the knockout stages. You could get the impression that Croatia was too old at times in the group phase. But the well-rehearsed ensemble has once again increased in time.