Safety is a fundamental virtue for any goalkeeper. You don’t necessarily have to be a miracle worker to impose yourself under the sticks. Firmness in actions ensures tranquility for the defensive system, while intimidating opposing attackers. This is how Dominik Livakovic emerges as a protagonist in Croatia’s qualification to another World Cup semifinal. The penalty saved against Rodrygo weighs a lot, even more so for someone who had taken three in the previous phase. But the Croatian archer’s majesty was not only built on the fame that preceded him in the competition, but also on the way he blocked repeated attempts by Brazil. He had great positioning, perfect reading of plays, sense of anticipation. It seemed to make the many interventions he needed to make easy and, in the 11 meters, he arrived with a psychological advantage.
Livakovic already knew what it was like to play in a World Cup, but on the bench. The goalkeeper, then 23 years old, was an option for Danijel Subasic in the World Cup in Russia. He saw his teammate become a hero during the campaign to the final, mainly due to the saved penalties. And while the veteran went into a career decline, the rookie has become a safety point in the Croatian national team. He took over the position from 2019, played in a Euro Cup as a starter, gained international experience also with Dinamo Zagreb in the continental campaigns. He was ready to complete the renovation process in a new Cup, in 2022.
Throughout the group stage, Livakovic didn’t need to appear much. The classification in Group F had more emphasis on the work of its defenders, especially Josko Gvardiol, while Belgium’s lack of aim also helped – in a match in which it faltered in some high exits. However, for Croatia’s hopes of repeating the 2018 epic to be maintained, the goalkeeper would also need to make himself a giant in the knockout stages. That’s what happened to Japan. He took some important balls from outside the area in the 120 minutes and intimidated the Blue Samurai at the lime mark. Brazil already knew they would face an archer with a high level of motivation. It’s safe.
From the first half, even without being so demanding, Livakovic impressed by his sense of placement. The shots weren’t so precise, but shirt 1 was always in one piece. He didn’t even get into trouble with a free kick that deflected into the wall, the kind of shot that tends to be treacherous with any archer. In the second half, Brazil grew and began to find spaces to infiltrate. It had loopholes to threaten. And then the Croatian goalkeeper really confirmed himself as a difficult barrier to pass.
Livakovic’s reading of every move and his sense of anticipation helped as much as his positioning. He even managed to avoid an own goal with his foot, but he was especially attentive to close the attackers’ angle and always appear on top of the ball to block shots. His movements were perfect, he was a very firm goalkeeper. There were four impeccable one-on-one saves. And that not only bolstered teammates’ morale in the face of the heat, it also added to the nervousness on the other side. There was a mental load to contend with in overtime.
When Livakovic was finally overcome, Neymar had all the merits of understanding what the goalkeeper was doing. If the Croatian was always on his feet when the infiltration occurred, ready to block the path of the kick, the number 10 made a dribble to surprise him. Even so, trust in Livakovic was not lost. And he also appeared in Brazil’s last breaths, to catch Casemiro’s blow inside the area. Of the 21 Brazilian submissions, 11 were on target. Ten of them ended up saved by the goalkeeper. And the psychological element went to the penal ones. Livakovich had a favorable record. Brazil was even sorry for the way it conceded the goal.
Kicking off the penalty shootout tends to take a weight off your shoulders, especially when the ball ends up in the net, as Nikola Vlasic did. Defending the first of opponents, then, puts a sense of urgency on the other side, of having to chase after a difference that already seems to lead to losing everything. Rodrygo didn’t get the ball well, Livakovic loomed large again. And the Croatian goalkeeper indicated that he had studied the shots well. He was a hair’s breadth away from defending Casemiro’s excellent shot. Afterwards, he was tricked by Pedro’s category and had the help of the beam in front of Marquinhos. Even better when surgical companions direct the service. The classification was done with the repeated hero.
The World Cup is always a shortcut to collective memory. Livakovic is a Dinamo Zagreb idol and a well-known figure in his country. Now, however, he remains for the World Cups as one of the executioners of Brazil in these quarterfinals and also as an archer who has loomed large in penalties repeatedly. He is not new to the country, thinking about what Subasic had done in 2018. Still, the current number 1 is more of a goalkeeper than his predecessor. He has quality and has time to consecrate himself in other Cups, as well as other leagues. The opponents will think twice before giving any submission against the Croatian. And your companions will know how to trust you.