AL RAYYAN, Qatar -- The slippery hips of Luka Modric wriggled away from danger. The laser-like precision of his passing — and the intelligence to control the tempo for long periods — were ever present, as is usual.
There was the customary adjustment of his hairband here, a tug of his captain’s armband there.
It was the full repertoire from one of soccer’s finest midfield maestros, and it all helped Croatia put an end to the dancing Brazilians and knock one of the biggest favorites out of the World Cup.
Modric and his teammates made it back into the semifinals at soccer’s biggest tournament on Friday, beating Brazil 4-2 in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw through extra time.
“It would be very difficult to find someone at the age of 37 with such performance, with such strength when he plays for Real Madrid and the national team and Luka Modric has proven his quality,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić said. “When he came to the World Cup people began writing him off and then he came back in his best light, on the top of his game and he brought Croatia into the semifinals.”
It wasn’t all “the beautiful game” that Brazil made so famous during the days of Pele, however. In stoppage time, with the game still goalless, Modric fouled Rodrygo, sending the Brazil forward to the ground just as he was about to break free.
This Croatia team, four years after reaching the World Cup final and losing to France, keeps looking for a way to win.
The match at Education City Stadium was Croatia’s fourth draw in five matches in Qatar. The team hasn’t been the most thrilling to watch at this year’s tournament, but Dalić's players produce some drama.
When Croatia substitute Bruno Petkovic equalized in the 117th minute, it was the team’s first shot on target. It came not long after Neymar had scored at the very end of the first half of extra time — moving him into a tie with Pele for the most goals scored for Brazil’s national team.
Naturally, Modric was central to the moment that turned the match on its head, showcasing his strength and composure to hold off a challenge from Casemiro before passing to Nikola Vlasic.
The ball was moved out wide to Mislav Orisic, and his cross was converted by Petkovic.
Fans of both teams were stunned.
Petkovic tore off his shirt in celebration before being mobbed by teammates on the field and from the bench. Croatia had succeeded in making it to a second straight penalty shootout after needing spot kicks to eliminate Japan in the round of 16.
Modric, of course, converted his penalty, as did his teammates. Rodrygo’s shot was saved by Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, and Marquinhos later hit the post. Neymar wasn’t among the four Brazilians to take part in the shootout.
Of Croatia’s five shots on target in the match, including the four penalties in the shootout, the team scored five goals.
Neymar, who tied Pele’s record as his country’s leading scorer with 77 goals, couldn’t hold back the tears at the end. Rodrygo, Modric’s teammate at Real Madrid, was inconsolable, too.
The pair embraced when it was over, that earlier challenge a memory and Modric still with more magic to make in Qatar.
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports