Lewis Ambrose

📝 Russia 2-2 (3-4) Croatia: Penalty drama sees Croatia defeat hosts

World Cup hosts Russia suffered penalty shoot-out heartbreak as Croatia set up a semi-final date with England in Sochi.

Having taken a first-half lead through a Denis Cheryshev screamer, Russia were pegged back by Andrej Kramarić before the break. Andrej Kramarić’s stooping header would take us into extra-time with Croatia unable to make their second-half pressure tell.

Each side scored in extra-time before Croatia prevailed on penalties.

Russia 2-2 (3-4) Croatia


1-0: Cheryshev 31′
1-1: Kramarić 39′
1-2: Vida 101′
2-2: Fernandes 115′


0-0: Smolov – Miss
0-1:  Brozović – Scored
1-1: Dzagoev – Scored
1-1: Kovačić – Miss
1-1: Fernandes – Miss
1-2: Modrić – Scored
2-2: Ignashevich – Scored
2-3: Vida –Scored
3-3: Kuzyayev – Scored
3-4: Rakitić – Scored

A tight affair was expected in Sochi but Russia started much quicker than in their round of 16 win over Spain. Looking to catch Croatia cold, the hosts countered quickly and asked questions of the pre-game favourites in the early stages. Croatia soon grew into the game, relaxing in possession and taking control of the match.

That counted from nothing when, from out of nowhere, a Denis Cheryshev screamer put Russia ahead. Dropped for the Spain match, the winger played a smart one-two with Artem Dzyuba, getting the ball back on around 30 yards from goal. Cheryshev shifted the ball onto his left foot and unleashed a thunderbolt into the top corner. His fourth of the tournament rocked the stadium.

Russia threatened to add a second but their joy was short-lived before Croatia hit back. Played in on the left, Mario Mandžukić looked up to see Andrej Kramarić in the box with five Russian defenders around him. Somehow he found his team-mate, who nodded the ball into the far post.

Having brought themselves level, Croatia continued to pile on the pressure after the break. Kramarić in particular was consistently threatening, failing to find space for a clean shot in the box moments before he directed an acrobatic bicycle kick straight at Igor Akinfeev.

The attacking moments continued to come from Croatia and Ivan Perišić made time stand still as he bought himself space in the box and was desperately unlucky to hit the post. Russia had scrambled to clear the ball and left the winger free at the edge of the box. Having brought the ball under his control, Perišić arrowed an effort perfectly towards the far corner only to watch it strike the inside of the woodwork and inexplicably roll across the goal and to safety.

A lifeline for Russia, who took off goalscorer Denis Cheryshev as they looked to add fresh legs on the break.

That change made nothing and Russia were let off the hook again with 15 minutes remaining. Croatia, now with Marcelo Brozović adding his slick passing, continued to pile on the pressure but a Luka Modrić half-volley was met by three Russian players putting their bodies on the line.

Hoping to add fresh legs and preserve the draw, Russian striker Dzyuba was next to be subbed, allowing the hosts to play quicker on the break but leaving them without a valuable target man to relieve pressure.

Having used their third sub to replace goalscorer Kramarić with Mateo Kovačić, injury time gave Croatia reason to panic. Just when you thought this World Cup had seen enough drama, Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subašić appeared to suffer a hamstring injury on the brink of full-time. He was called into action just once and made a nervous looking save to keep his country in the competition for at least another half an hour.

The first five minutes of extra-time saw Croatia’s issues mount. Their extra sub was used to replace the injured Šime Vrsjalko and Mario Mandžukić also appeared to be struggling.

Those concerns quickly drifted away, though, as Domagoj Vida headed Croatia into the lead. A World Cup dominated by set-piece goals was treated to another as the centre-back rose above everyone in the box and nodded the ball – perhaps via Vedran Corluka’s leg – beyond Akinfeev’s reach.

The previously struggling Subašić seemed to be buoyed by the recovered for the final quarter of an hour, heroically denying Russia twice before Manuel Fernandes brought the stadium – and the entire nation – to its feet.

Escaping the attention of Mandžukić, Fernandes met a beautifully delivered Alan Dzagoev free-kick and glanced it into the far corner.

A Brazilian-born man who can’t speak Russian, Fernandes was suddenly a bonafide hero in the World Cup’s host nation. But not for long.

Fernandes and Smolov missed from the spot for the hosts, opening a window for Croatia. Kovačić also saw his effort saved from 12 yards but his team-mates kept their heads to send Croatia into their second ever semi-final.

Man of the match: Luka Modrić (Croatia)

Class personified.

By far the most accomplished player on the pitch, Modrić pulled the strings all night long.

What happens next?

Croatia will play a World Cup semi-final against England Wednesday evening. The game will take place in Moscow.