Russia’s fairytale came to an end at the quarter-finals after they were eliminated from the World Cup on penalties by Croatia at the Fisht Olympic Stadium on Saturday.
Russia 2 Croatia 2
Cheryshev (31′) opens scoring with stunner
Kramaric (39′) equalises with header
Vida (100′) heads Croatia in front
Fernandes (115′) levels matters late on
Croatia win 4-3 in the shootout
Zlatko Dalic’s side bossed proceedings, but found themselves trailing to a gem of a strike by Denis Cheryshev after 31 minutes, before Andrej Kramaric brought them back on level terms six minutes to the half-time break.
Ivan Perisic came closest to scoring in the second half, while Domagoj Vida put the Blazers ahead in the first half of extra time, only for Mario Fernandes to restore parity at the death and force penalties.
Russia were happy to let Croatia have the bulk of possession as they looked to repeat the tactic that proved so successful against Spain in the round of 16.
The Blazers had the first sniff at goal after seven minutes when Ante Rebic headed over after meeting Dejan Lovren’s header back into the danger area.
Sime Vrsaljko presented Mario Mandzukic with a good chance to open the scoring four minutes later with a low cross from the right, but the striker miscued his shot high and wide of the near post.
Ivan Rakitic then wasted a free-kick in a promising position on 16 minutes as he curled well over the target from 19 yards out on the right.
Perisic glanced a header just wide of the left post from Vrsaljko’s fine cross on the right in the 28th minute and it seemed only a matter of time before the Croatians scored.
Instead the opener came at the other end three minutes later from Sbornaya’s second foray into the final third. Cheryshev still had plenty to do when he collected the ball on the left and after playing a neat one-two with Artem Dzyuba, the winger curled a shot into the top-left corner of the net from 22 yards out.
The duo combined again on 39 minutes, but on this occasion Cheryshev was unable to stab the ball on target from a tight angle on the left.
Croatia were deservedly back on level terms a minute later, however, as Mandzukic ran into space on the left and delivered a telling cross for Kramaric to head past Igor Akinfeev from seven yards out.
Kramaric threatened again seven minutes into the second half, although his overhead-kick was comfortably claimed by Akinfeev, who saw Ivan Strinic fire well over the crossbar from 22 yards out on the left in the 58th minute, before the woodwork came to Russia’s rescue two minutes later.
After Akinfeev fluffed his punch in an attempt to clear a cross, Perisic struck the inside of the left post from eight yards out and watched the ball cannon past the opposite upright.
Rare chances for Stanislav Cherchesov’s team saw Dzyuba head tamely at Danijel Subasic from a 62nd-minute corner, before substitute Aleksandr Erokhin sent his header well over the bar from Fernandes’ cross on the right 10 minutes later.
Back up the other end, Mandzukic directed a header over from a 77th-minute corner in what was the final attempt in regulation time, but the first extra-time goal of the World Cup arrived on 100 minutes and it was Croatian fans celebrating.
Akinfeev was helpless as Vida’s header sneaked through a body of players into the bottom-right corner of the net from a corner on the right.
However, Fernandes restored parity on 115 minutes to give all of Russia renewed hope as he flashed a header past a stranded Subasic from a free-kick on the right.
Roman Zobnin looked to win it for Sbornaya at the death with a low strike from 20 yards out, but Subasic got down well to make the save at his near post.
The opening penalty from Fedor Smolov was poor and easily saved by Subasic, while Fernandes drilled his spot-kick just wide of the left post. Akinfeev denied Mateo Kovacic and almost kept out Luka Modric’s effort from 12 yards out, but Rakitic converted the decisive effort to seal a 4-3 win in the shootout.