Croatia's win over Brazil reminds soccer fans that life is not fair

Brazil’s loss is a reminder that life is not fair.

Making the right decisions does not guarantee success. Like some sort of natural disaster, Croatia has taken that which is entirely good and reduced it to rubble. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Despite their best effort and the world’s wishes, Brazil has been sent home prematurely from Qatar after losing on penalties.

It wasn’t pretty, far from it. Artists taking on surgeons. For Croatia, the goal has always been to frustrate. A means to an end. Sacrificing beauty for benefit, so long as Croatia comes out on top. Zlatko Dalić’s side has mastered the art of rendering a match unwatchable for 120 excruciating minutes. 

Their method of thwarting even the most creative of teams is second to none, evidenced by their unlikely run to the final in 2018. There is rarely a magic moment, no piece of individual brilliance. But through the haze of sleep-inducing soccer, Joga Bonito made a brief appearance in overtime and looked set to finally spoil Croatia’s party.

This Brazil side seems to come with a side of joy, one incapable of being served without the other. After 105 minutes of waiting for the meal to be served, Neymar delivered the goods with a brilliant finish. Interplay intertwined with solo skill. Vintage Brazil. 

However, just as it seemed that the Seleção would emerge victorious, Croatia did what they do best: take a game to penalties. A scrappy goal topped off with a deflection that took it past Allison will be one that Tite and his side will regret conceding. 

Penalties once again went the way of the Croatians, after Rodrygo and Marquinhos both missed their spot kicks. The latter sent Croatia’s Dominik Livaković the wrong way but was denied by the post to end it 4-2 and send the Brazilians packing. Neymar never even got the chance to take his shot. 

This Brazilian side played beautiful soccer, that in a perfect world, should have been rewarded. It should be how the game is won. But it isn’t. Soccer is cruel. Soccer doesn’t care about the 81,000 square feet between each goal. All that matters is who put the ball in the net more. 

Neymar, Richarlison and Vinícius Júnior should have been unstoppable, but they weren’t. 

Perhaps in another world. Perhaps there's a timeline where Neymar leveled Pelé’s goalscoring record and beat Croatia. Perhaps there’s a reality where Brazil samba'd through defenses all tournament long and won its sixth title playing the most glorious version of Joga Bonito the world had ever seen. 

But not here. Not today. 

Our plane of existence is not worthy of that level of beauty and peace. It’s an equilibrium that would only feel at home in a science fiction book alongside flying cars and interplanetary travel. It's a sick joke that those who play the game with beauty don’t always win.

Croatia is a sort of soccer kryptonite. Stopping better sides in their tracks and restoring them to human levels of being. It’s not fair, but then again, what does that mean?

Croatia’s checkered past and present are part of an incredible story in their own right. For two consecutive World Cups, Croatia will play seven games, a feat not achieved through sheer luck. Tactical determination combined with a talented roster can be the difference when skill is not enough. And so they continue, set to dismantle another opponent in the semifinals on Tuesday. Their reward for finding a way to win, no matter how unsightly. 

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