Ivan Rakitic, just as he did against Denmark in the previous round, fired Croatia into the semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup with a swing of his right boot as the Vaterni ended Russia’s dream run by virtue of a heart-stopping 6-5 (4-3 on penalties) shootout at the Fisht Stadium on Saturday night.
The final quarter-final began on a dour note, with both sides cancelling each other out but as the clock ticked, the action heated up.
Arguably against the run of play, Russia took the lead thanks to Denis Cheryshev’s wonder strike in the 31st minute.
The hardworking midfielder got his fourth goal of the tournament by letting fly form outside the box and for once Danijel Subasic was powerless.
Croatia responded and would restore parity with a brilliant counterthat culminated with Ivan Perisic setting up Andrej Kramaric six minutes before the interval.
The second-half saw a marked drop in intensity, understandably so for both sides had progressed to the quarters thanks to an energy-sapping penalty shootouts.
Luka Modric and Co. were bossing the midfield but Russia would continue to have their moments on the counter and as the regulation 90 minutes came to an end, a draw somehow seemed like a fair result.
Then, disaster struck for the hosts as Domagoj Vida rose highest to head home in the 101st minute to seemingly end Russian hopes.
Stanislav Cherchesov, however, was far from done and exhorted the crown and his troops to keep believing.
That’s exactly what his side did, with Brazilian-born fullback Mario Fernandez popping up with a fine header in the 115th minute to force the issue into penalties.
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In a shootout, things rarely go according to plan and Fedor Smolov’s attempted dink was easily saved by Subasic but Mateo Kovacic would even it out as Igor Akinfeev saved his effort.
Fernandes, however, couldn’t convert the next spot-kick and Modric would finish his to give the Croatians the lead again and they wouldn’t relinquish it then.
Rakitic stepped up to take the fourth spot-kick and his confident effort easily beat Akinfeev to set up a semi-final with England.
The Three Lions lie in wait and Croatia only have a couple of days to recover from their exertions before Wednesday’s semi-final.
France take on Belgium in the other semi-final on Tuesday night.