By Armstrong Vaz
Doha (Qatar), Dec 10 (IANS): Neymar drew level with football legend Pele's record of 77 Brazil goals with his effort against Croatia on Friday but that was not enough for the South Americans to take them to the next stage of the FIFA World Cup.
Instead, Neymar's team crashed out of the football showpiece event after going down 4-2 to 2018 runners-up Croatia in the penalty shootout.
At the Education City Stadium on Friday the teams were locked goalless at the end of the normal period of play and both teams found the back of the nets in the 30 minutes of extra time. Brazil scored first with Neymar scoring a gem of a goal in the 105th minute only to find Croatia fighting it back to draw level in the 117th minute through Bruno Petkovic and take the 120 minutes to clash into a penalty shootout.
Dominik Livakovic in goal for Croatia was once again brilliant. He will likely be a contender for the best goalkeeper of the World Cup award.
In the penalty shootout, Croatia keeper Livakovic, who had done a splendid job in the normal period of play and extra-time, pulled off brilliant saves once again during the penalty shootout to give the Croatians their second successive win in the tie-break, having earlier similarly defeated Asian giants Japan the last-16 clash.
Rodrygo and Marquinhos missed from the spot from Brazil, while Nikola Vlasic, Lovro Majer, Luka Modric and Mislav Orsic converted all four penalties taken by Croatia.
The Croatian keeper Livakovic made 11 saves, out of which seven were shots taken from inside the box, made one save in the penalty shootout and that is not all, he touched the ball 51 times and out of the 32 passes he made, 26 were accurate and was rightfully declared as the player of the match.
On Saturday, the 2018 runners-up Croatia were very well-organised and strong defensively, and managed to hold Brazil into a game of patience.
A scare, however, came in extra time, when Neymar scored a stunner that seemed to send the five-time champions into the next stage, but it was not to be. Neymar scored in extra-time after a superb run into the penalty area and one-twos with Rodrygo and Lucas Parcheta, rounding goalkeeper Livakovic and firing high into the net from a right angle.
The 30-year-old reached the milestone in his 124th cap while three-time World Cup winner Pele had needed 92 matches to score 77 times. Neymar had earlier at the tournament joined Pele and Ronaldo as Brazilian players to score at three World Cup finals.
Croatia didn't settle for defeat and were gifted a counter-attack, which was concluded by Petkovic. His weak shot was deflected by Brazilian defender Marquinhos into the net to make the shoot-out decide.
The Croatian side were successful in a World Cup shoot-out for a fourth consecutive time, after beating Denmark and hosts Russia in 2018, and Japan in Qatar.
Croatian have thus knocked out tournament favourites Brazil from the World Cup, who now have four World Cup wins in penalty shootouts.
For Brazil, it is quarterfinal elimination yet again for the fourth time in the last five World Cups and they will rue not seeing this game out after taking the lead in extra time.
Brazil, meanwhile, have kept the negative record of losing a World Cup knockout stage game against a European nation since beating Germany 2-0 in 2002 final. They have been eliminated in the quarterfinals for the fourth time in five events since then.