MIKE KEEGAN: Croatia – the Atletico Madrid of international football – squeezed the life out of Brazil’s party but there is beauty in the beast… Luka Modric and Josip Juranovic were outstanding in their quarter-final win
The Atletico Madrid of world football are through. Croatia, the World Cup’s mean machine, has seen off Brazil. Another knockout game, another penalty shootout victory for the perennial underachievers.
Is that a good thing? The pure football brigade will say no. To hell with that. This is a tournament in which it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. The stadiums, for example. From the outside they all have their own shapes – traditional headwear here, female anatomy there.
But on the inside they tend to be three-tiered identikit replicas of each other. Even HMS Wag, dressed up as party central, is now an almost-deserted floating shell, where bands outnumber the guests they are playing for. Curmudgeonly Croatia are a reassuring presence.
Croatia celebrate beating Brazil in a penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 draw in the quarter-final clash
They turn up and like a conversation-hogging uncle, try and squeeze the life out of the party. Japan were so bored they could barely get their penalty kicks off the ground last time out.
Here, when they scored an equaliser with their first shot on target and roared as they exited the huddle ahead of the shootout you knew they would prevail. The achievement outweighs the method.
Croatia is a country of fewer than four million. Only hosts Qatar and Wales have smaller populations. The man who designed the country’s flag was also responsible for their iconic, checkerboard jerseys.
Luka Modric pulled the strings in midfield once again and continues to be a standout player
Josip Juranovic (L) will be a wanted man after this World Cup after another impressive display
He might want to stick a dog wearing a pair of red gloves on the badge. There is beauty in the beast. Luka Modric, at 37, is the Tom Brady of real football. At times here he outran opponents.
Indeed, the only dancing we saw came via his jinking feet, time and time again tiptoeing out of trouble. Modric was joined by a willing crew.
Josip Juranovic put it one of the finest performances we have seen from a right back at this tournament. One does not know what they are feeding him in the East End of Glasgow but the rest of Scotland and beyond could do with finding out. This was a complete display of attacking, defending and defending some more.
A shutdown performance which saw Vinicius Junior yanked after 64 minutes. Pep Guardiola will attest to how rare a sight that is after Manchester City’s Champions League exit. Juranovic, signed for £2.5m from Legia Warsaw.
He has admirers and Celtic’s move for Canada’s Alistair Johnston seems ominous. One of those thought to be in the race? Atletico Madrid.
Croatia will now head to their second successive World Cup semi-final where they’ll play either Argentina or the Netherlands