Russia 2018 Watch: Spot-on Croatia send hosts ‘home’
PUBLISHED: 08:30 08 July 2018
Croatia booked a semi-final meeting with England after pnalty shoot-out success against Russia.
The two nations had met on three previous occasions with the Croats triumphing 3-1 in a friendly in 2015, after two goalless draws in qualification for the 2008 UEFA European Championship.
Nikola Kalinić was among the scorers in the 2015 encounter and was initially part of the Balkans’ 23-man squad, but was sent home after he refused to come on as a substitute against Nigeria.
Russia had reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1970 when they were part of the Soviet Union and were beaten 1-0 by Uruguay. Meanwhile, the Blazers last progressed into the last eight in France 20 years ago when they finished in third.
Prior to the Round of 16 clash against Spain, the Russians had never previously experienced a penalty-shootout in the competition since participating as an independent nation.
The Croatians had also endured their first penalty-shootout in the tournament in this campaign, knocking out Denmark in the previous round.
Croatia were on a four-match unbeaten run going into the game – their longest run to date in the competition. And they had also scored in each of their last eight World Cup Games, a run that stretched all the way back to 2006 and a goalless draw with Japan.
In a first half of few chances, the hosts went in front thanks to a thunderbolt from Denis Cheryshev, who curled home into the top-corner in the 31st minute.
However the Croats trailed for barely eight minutes as Andrej Kramarić headed home to level the scores.
In the 59th minute, Kramarić was involved again as the Balkans very nearly took the lead.
The former Leicester City striker’s looping cross eventually found its way to Ivan Perišić, who struck the post – with Igor Akinfeev well beaten, as the game eventually went to extra-time.
Ten minutes into the first period the Croatians went in front when Domagoj Vida headed home from a corner by Luka Modrić, who was making his 10th appearance at the World Cup and in doing so, became his country’s second-highest-capped player at the tournament behind Dario Šimić.
The hosts were heading out but in the 115th minute, Brazilian-born Mário Fernandes headed home from substitute Alan Dzagoev’s free-kick to take the tie to a shoot-out.
Substitute Fyodor Smolov was first up for the Russians, but his ‘Panenka’ effort was palmed away by Danijel Subašić.
Marcelo Brozović and Alan Dzagoev were next up and were successful, but Mateo Kovačić was second up for the Croats and denied by Akinfeev, who guessed correctly to restore parity.
Fernandes, who scored the equaliser for the Russians, fired dreadfully wide and despite successful spot-kicks from Sergei Ignashevich and Daler Kuzyayev, Russia knew that if Ivan Rakitić scored they would be eliminated.
And he did – sending Akinfeev the wrong way to send the Croats into their first World Cup semi-final since 1998.
It also meant that Croatia became the first side to win two penalty shootouts in a single World Cup campaign since Argentina in 1990.
Moscow awaits their last-four clash with Gareth Southgate’s men.