Japan delivered an excellent performance at Qatar 2022, but they had to bow out of the competition after a penalty shootout against Croatia in the Round of 16, as the Asian side met their match in Dominik Livakovic, a goalkeeper in excellent form, which wrote history by becoming only the third shot stopper in history to save three penalties in a single match at the FIFA World Cup.
The other two? Another Croatian goalkeeper, Danijel Subasic, against Denmark, in 2018, and Portugal’s Ricardo, in 2006, against England. But Livakovic was the only one to stop the first two penalties in a shootout at the FIFA World Cup and became Croatia’s hero, just like Subasic four years ago.
Interestingly enough, both Subasic and Livakovic were born and bred in the same city, Zadar, a small port on the Adriatic Sea, and started their journey in football at the same club, NK Zadar, which was dissolved due to financial issues in 2020, after the Covid-19 pandemic struck the world.
While he is now a hero in himself, Livakovic has also a very interesting backstory, featuring only for three clubs in his career – NK Zadar, NK Zagreb, and his current team, Dinamo Zagreb – while also focusing on his academic background, hailing from a highly-educated family.
His father, Zdravko, was a construction engineer and a state secretary at the ministry of sea, transport, and infrastructure. His paternal grandfather was a radiologist and a well-known board member of the KK Zadar, the basketball team of the city, while his grandmother an English teacher.
But everything could have panned out very differently. The first sport little Dominik loved was basketball, encouraged by his grandfather. Eventually, he realised that his future stayed with football and he switched sports because he liked the game too much.
Yet destiny made it for Livakovic to become a goalkeeper and to use his hands more than his feet in football, a feature that only made his family even happier.
“Like every child, I played several sports, including basketball, until I realized that my love was on the pitch with a ball, to play football. From the very beginning, my grandfather was by my side and he is the most responsible for where I am today. He taught me a lot about life, above all about humility. Even today, humility is my main value in life,” said Livakovic for Croatian outlet “Jutarnji List.”
Yet he never forgot about his studies and he enrolled at a university to study diplomacy and international relations, juggling at the start his academics with football. But when the latter started to take over, it was the moment when Livakovic had to say stop and focus on the sport.
“My family has always been my support in life. Higher education was not something that happened on their initiative, but it was solely my desire, as well as finishing high school, despite the fact that football is my calling in life. I enrolled in diplomacy and international relations. I put it aside while there is football, but I want to do it one day. And my family is perhaps the least sorry these days that I chose the ball instead of the book. In fact, I’m sure they’re glad that I didn’t decide to go to college,” added Livakovic.
Surely now, they are as happy as could be, as their son became a national hero and helped Croatia qualify for the second time in a row and for the third time in history to the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup.
Four years earlier, when Croatia got to the final and lost it against France, Livakovic was Danijel Subasic’s understudy. Now, he made history himself, with his hands, following in his former teammate’s footsteps.
“It’s what we do in Croatia. You could see that four years ago. I continue the tradition of my predecessors and I put it down to the analysis we do of the penalty takers.”
“This time the penalties worked well for us. I don’t think they were difficult ones to save. We did an analysis prior to this match,” said Livakovic gleefully after the game against Japan.
He will definitely be in demand in the quarter-finals against Brazil, with the South American team being one of the most attacking-minded at Qatar 2022. But with Livakovic between the posts, anything might happen.