Croatia reached only their second World Cup semi-final on Saturday evening as they edged past Russia 4-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw after extra-time.
The hosts took control on half an hour when Denis Cheryshev scored an absolute blockbuster, before Andrej Kramarić equalised only eight minutes later with an easy header. The tie went into extra-time and Domagoj Vida found the net with a header from a corner. Russia were not done there though as Mario Fernandes equalised with an expert header with only five minutes left on the clock.
As the game went to penalties, Fyodor Smolov and Fernandes were the unlucky parties from the spot as Ivan Rakitić netted the winning spot-kick.
Cheryshev cannon opens the scoring
Both teams made one change apiece for the quarter-final tie. Cheryshev replaced Yuri Zhirkov for the hosts, whilst Kramarić was drafted into the team in place of Marcelo Brozović.
Artem Dzyuba had the first chance as he latched onto Šime Vrsaljko’s poor clearance but he was crowded out before he could get a shot off. Ante Rebić then headed straight over the bar as both sides enjoyed an attacking start. Ivan Perišić was then guilty of spurning another opportunity in the first-period as he glanced Vrsaljko’s cross wide.
Croatia had been the more threatening side in the opening stages but it was the host nation that went ahead. Cheryshev played a great one-two with Artem Dzyuba before letting fly from 20 yards and seeing his shot crash into the top corner.
Kramaric capitalises on sloppy defending
Despite their historic strike, the Russians were let down by some slack defending. Mario Mandžukić was given too much space in the penalty area and crossed to Kramarić who nodded in from only yards out to equalise.
A curious incident produced the first chance of the second half. Kramarić attempted an bicycle kick which was easily collected by Igor Akinfeev. The Russian stopper then launched the ball and it almost caught out Danijel Subašić but the Croatian keeper somehow got back and collected the ball.
Perisic goes close
Perišić also did brilliantly as Croatia begun to turn the screw. He turned on the penalty spot and aimed for the bottom corner only to see the ball strike the post.
Aleksandr Erokhin, who had replaced Aleksandr Samedov, then went close with a header but the game looked destined for extra-time.
Vida nets in extra-time
Extra-time really struggled to get going for a start, but when it did, the supporters in Sochi were treated. Fyodor Smolov raced through and looked as though he was taken down by Dejan Lovren. However, the referee was unmoved.
There was eventually a goal but it did not go the way that the Russian supporters desired as Vida leapt higher than anyone. Meeting an excellent Luka Modrić delivery from a corner, the Besiktas defender headed into the back of the net, sending the Croatian fans into ecstasy.
Fernandes equaliser in vain as he misses from the spot
The Russian equaliser though allowed a greater noise to cascade out of the Fisht Stadium. The hosts won a free-kick and Alan Dzagoev's pinpoint delivery was met expertly by Fernandes and he powered the ball beyond Subašić to send the game to penalties.
Despite their late equaliser, Stanislav Cherchesov's troops were not as fortunate in the shootout. Smolov missed his kick, with Zobnin making no mistake. Dzagoev then stepped up and slotted into the bottom corner as Mateo Kovacic then saw his effort saved.
Goalscorer Fernandes also saw his penalty stopped, with Modric earning his country the advantage. Iganshevic, Vida and Kuzyayev all scored with the decisive penalty being bestowed to Rakitic. The Barcelona man was unfased and sent Akinfeev the wrong way to secure Croatia their place in the semi-finals of the World Cup.