The World Cup fairy-tale of the golden generation of Croatia continued with a 4-3 victory on penalties following a 2-2 draw after extra time in their quarter-final showdown against the hosts Russia at the Fisht Stadium, Sochi.
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Russia showcased that they’ve got what it takes to gain mastery over big teams in their round of 16 encounter with a victory over the overwhelming favourites Spain on penalties, after holding onto a 1-1 draw courtesy of an impressive defensive display, while even Croatia’s place in the quarter-finals was decided in the same way despite their dominating performance against Denmark.
The game kicked-off with Russia surprisingly gaining upper hand over Croatia with some early scares. But Croatia slowly found their feet and got themselves into the game putting pressure on the hosts.
The Croats opted for a possession play in the middle of the park in search for a goal while Russia looked threatening on the counter. But neither could concoct any stark goal scoring opportunities in the opening half-hour.
It was Russia who got the scoreboard ticking in the 31st minute through 25-yard screamer from Denis Cheryshev, who grabbed his fourth goal of the tournament. He held onto a pass from Artem Dzyuba, got into a pocket of space through his first-touch before curling it to the top-left corner beyond an astonished Danijel Subasic; to put Russia on the driving seat.
However, their woeful defending saw Croatia finding their equalizer in the 39th minute as Andrej Kramaric headed the ball into the bottom right through a beautiful cut-back pass off the left wing by Mario Mandzukic, who wandered into the final third without any difficulty after catching the opposition on the break.
Half Time – Russia 1 – 1 Croatia
The best chance of the second half perhaps came to Ivan Perisic in the 60th minute where he got the ball through a mix-up between Igor Akinfeev and the Russian defenders, but his attempt to guide the ball into the bottom left from point blank range could only hit the post.
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Both teams looked threatening from set-pieces and crosses, and had their fair share of chances with a majority of them coming to Croatia, but lack of quality in the final third cost them the opportunity to take the lead.
Croats tried everything in their arsenal to penetrate through the stubborn Russian defense which sat deep and defended everything that came in their way; taking the game into the extra time.
Full Time – Russia 1 – 1 Croatia
It was again Russia who were more adventurous at the onset who fancied their chances going forward. But Croatia had other ideas as they took the lead in the 100th minute leaving the whole Russian camp stunned. It was Domagoj Vida who got on the end of a delicious corner and headed it home to give them the lead.
Just when it looked like that Croatia had the game in their bag came another twist in the tale with Russia finding their equalizer in the nick of time. Mario Fernandes’s bullet header to the curling free-kick into the box by Alan Dzagoev found the back of the net; taking the decision of the game into a penalty shootout.
Russia missed the first and the third penalties; the first by Fyodor Smolov being saved and the third by Fernandes going wide, while despite Croatia’s Mateo Kovacic missed second penalty, they slotted in the other four to eliminate Russia and reserve their place in the semi-finals for only the second time in history.
Man of the Match – Luka Modric (Croatia)
Russia – Denis Cheryshev 31’, Mario Fernandes 115’
Croatia – Andrej Kramaric 39’, Domagoj Vida 100’
Russia – Yury Gazinskiy 109’
Croatia – Dejan Lovren 35’, Ivan Strinic 38’, Domagoj Vida 102’, Josip Pivaric 114’
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