Heck, whatever you care to call it, another huge dollop of captivating 2022 World Cup drama witnessed the great indefatigables of Croatia prevailing in a penalty shoot-out over the great deceivers Brazil are fast becoming to reach a second consecutive semi-final in the tournament. Incredibly.
The Croatians spent much of the final hour of the 120 on the back foot. They looked to have more than a toe poking towards the exit door when a glorious Neymar opener in the 105th minute seemed as if it could only break their resistance. Not this tiny, but huge-hearted, nation, though. Zlatko Dalić’s men simply refused to fold, and after hitting back with a deflected Bruno Petrovic strike with only four minutes of extra-time remaining, they puffed out their chests and stuck away four straight shoot-out spot kicks as if it was a doddle to do so. Brazil showed the reality was otherwise. Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic - octopus-like in using his arms, legs and frame to make a series of blocks in the contest - saved from Rodrigo first up. And then, when Marquinhos required to convert the eighth penalty, he thumped the post to send the favourites out at the quarter-final stage for the second tournament running. And with that, the wait for a sixth success for the most successful country in World Cup history is guaranteed to stretch to at least 26 years.
Croatia’s astonishing fortitude, and Brazil’s initial flatness and then flakiness in front of goal, made the outcome one that wasn’t flattering to the victors. Even if their one shot on target did not arrive until Luka Modric played out wide left to Mislav Orsic in acres of space. The freedom afforded to the forward allowed him to pick out Petrovic in front of goal, and when he swung and smacked it, fortune favoured him with the ball spinning off the luckless Marquinhos - what a horrible evening he had - and out of keeper Alisson’s reach.
It was not a twist anyone could have predicted. Following the twisting, technical delights from Neymar that seemed to have sealed a tense, often frustrating, affair. Brazil’s golden boy of the current era, in possibly his last World Cup as he approaches 30, appeared to have produced one of the truly enduring moments of the Qatar finals. Balance, strength, composure and craft all brimmed over as the Paris Saint-Germain striker carved his way through the middle. He first exchanged passes with Rodrigo, then played a one-two with Lucas Paquetá, before holding off Borna Sousa and topping that off by rounding Livakovic and slamming high into the net from a tight angle. In the corking counter being his 77th for his country, he matched the all-time total of the footballing demi-God Pele… only for the globe’s best loved side to transpire to have feet of clay in their current guise.
Croatia, with an adeptness that allowed them to be measured in their cat-and-mouse approach throughout, were the team that proved anointed. Celtic’s Josip Juranovic was an integral element in that. A driving presence in the first period as he tore down the flank from his right-back berth to give his team forward purpose, his passing and positional sense in his defensive duties was immaculate. So much so he entirely snuffed out Real Madrid winger Vinicius Junior - the pair jousting for the third time this season after the Champions League campaign - to lead the winger to be withdrawn after 68 minutes. Juranovic’s adventure not only continues. His price tag, if anticipated interest in him does firm in the forthcoming window, continues to rise. As does the admiration for his national team.