'We are raised as fighters': Meet Dominick Livakovic, Croatia's hero in World Cup victory over Brazil




Dominik Livakovic of Croatia celebrates the win via a penalty shootout during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 quarter final match between Croatia and Brazil at Education City Stadium on December 09, 2022 - We are raised as fighters
Dominik Livakovic of Croatia celebrates the win via a penalty shootout during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 quarter final match between Croatia and Brazil at Education City Stadium on December 09, 2022 - We are raised as fighters': Meet Dominick Livakovic, Croatia's hero in World Cup victory over Brazil - Alex Grimm/Getty Images  

This was a time for heroes in Croatia's red and white checks, but their new national idol was wearing lime green. Dominik Livakovic, of Dinamo Zagreb, was not expected to star in Qatar. There were worries he was just one of an uninspiring trio of goalkeepers in their squad.

Now Livakovic, 27, has saved four penalties in shoot-outs in the World Cup, the most in history. The first kick of this one was taken by Rodrygo in front of Brazil's fans, pitched at pleasantly Southgatean height for Livakovic, who made his latest save. There were three against Japan in the round of 16 and he got his fingertips to Casemiro's second here too, which beat him…just.

The keeper wore a face of shock as if he had just swerved a near miss at midnight on the M6. After Marquinhos's decisive kick clunked the bottom of a post, Livakovic sprinted away from his team-mates to celebrate alone for as long as he could, before the inevitable mobbing.

There was no attempt to throw him in the air and, given how often he had stood tall imposingly during the match, it was probably for the best. His first half was faultless. There were no shots which you would expect to beat a capable keeper, but all of his work was done cleanly and with an absence of fuss.

In the second half, things became trickier, but he made big saves with his feet from Neymar and Vinicius Junior. Later he charged down Lucas Paqueta, then foiled Neymar again with his trailing knee preventing a certain goal.

When he was eventually beaten by Neymar in extra time his team-mates sat on the ground as if the golden-goal rule was still operational. Thirty-seven minutes later, after an unlikely equaliser and more penalty heroics, Livakovic stood apart from his team in the centre circle, singing along with Moja Domovina ("My Homeland"), the 1991 song by the Croatian Band Aid which became an anthem of the nation's fight for independence.

After the game, he spoke slightly nervously with a scratch beneath his left eye. Like policemen, it is somehow unnerving when goalkeepers start to look young to you, especially after such accomplished performances. "We are fighters, we played our hearts out and that's it," he said.

"We're very happy about it, we're going one match at a time and we'll see where it gets us. "We are raised as fighters, we spare no efforts, give our best and that's the recipe for success."

But this was a victory built on more than goalkeeping heroics. There were daring runs from right-back Josip Juranovic and midfield efforts for the ages from Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovavic, two players who know when to hassle and when to admit defeat and make a tactical foul.

It helps enormously to have Luka Modric alongside, an utter nuisance off the ball who buzzed around like a lovable cartoon wasp. Younger men than him (Eden Hazard, Luis Suarez) have looked thoroughly clapped out at this tournament. Modric found beautiful crosses and scything balls out to the flanks with a zip that few can match.

Not for him the Lionel Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo approach of letting others do your running, Modric was still rushing back to offer an out ball deep into extra time. No shirking of penalty duties either, unlike certain Brazilians. Modric stepped up third for Croatia and sent Alisson the wrong way.

Such steel runs through the entire Croatian set-up. "Once again we demonstrated what it means to not surrender," said their manager, Zlatko Dalic. "We had a very strong character and we did not give up. "In penalty shoot-outs we become the favourite, as if our opponent has already lost the game."

Asked if Brazil's dancing celebrations were a useful motivational tool, Dalic stared down his inquisitor and said: "Yesterday I said at the press conference that I wouldn't like my players to dance."

An ominous silence followed. Next question. This is a cool team with cool supporters. One chap with slicked-back hair in a 2018 Modric shirt was pictured cheering wildly at the equaliser.

Two seconds later, camera still on him, he was having a relaxing suck on his electronic cigarette. Vaping has never looked more aspirational. More pertinently, Croatia is a young country which is using football emphatically to state its identity. It is telling itself repeatedly what its best attributes are. Once again, they have become self-fulfilling prophecies.

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