Croatia join Germany as World Cup penalty kings

Brazil were the big favourites to reach the semi-finals, but Croatia and Dominik Livakovic made FIFA World Cup history.


  • Croatia won their fourth successive FIFA World Cup shootout against Brazil

  • Dominik Livakovic also made individual history in the quarter-finals

  • “My players are not normal,” said Zlatko Dalic

    “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and, at the end, the Germans always win.”

    England’s No10, disconsolate, famously uttered those words having suffered a penalty shootout loss to West Germany at the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™. Brazil’s No10, equally heart-broken, must be thinking along similar lines tonight.

    The unconquerables in question, however, were not a footballing superpower with a population of around 84 million. They are one with fewer than four million inhabitants. One who have watched their heroes punch above their weight time and time again.

    Neymar’s coach, or his former coach – Tite’s Brazil reign was ended immediately after elimination – had warned against going to spot-kicks with Zlatko Dalic’s side. “They are a machine at penalties,” he said. “We must go for the victory.”

    Neymar himself had been mightily close to delivering the KO. Croatia, however, leapt up on the nine count and made Brazil pay, Bruno Petkovic sending the tie to spot-kicks.

    The pre-tournament and pre-match title favourites were now the underdogs to progress. Croatia had eliminated Denmark and Russia from the last World Cup on penalties, and Japan in the last 16 at this one.

    Dominik Livakovic repelled his opponents’ first attempt. His team-mates didn’t falter in any of their four. Marquinhos hit the post with Brazil’s fifth.

    Croatia had equalled Germany’s record of winning the most shootouts without having lost one in the World Cup (four). Their goalkeeper had tied the record for most spot-kick saves in shootouts in the competition (also four).

    “A couple of situations created by Brazil owed to their quality and speed, but we were able to prevent them with our goalkeeper, who was in top shape,” said Dalic. “He was the difference. He made the difference in the crucial moments, he saved us.

    “He saved the first penalty and gave us confidence. He also gave Brazil less confidence because they were afraid he’d save again. He made the difference for us over the whole match.

    “We knocked out the big favourites. Congratulations to the boys. This is for the Croatian people. I told you, ‘Never underestimate us’. Pride, faith and patriotism. This is not the end for us. Let’s keep going.

    “My players are not normal! Thanks also to the players who haven’t been playing, but are here and have contributed. We are a small country, and for the second time under my leadership we are in the semi-finals. I am proud. Everybody wrote us off.”

    Critics should never write Croatia off in a knockout-phase game ever again. Perhaps something needs rewritten, modernising though: Gary Lineker’s iconic quote.

    “Football, after all, is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 120 minutes and, at the end, the Croatians always win.”