Denis Cheryshev had put Russian Federation in front in the 31st minute with a superb strike – his fourth goal of the tournament – but that was cancelled out eight minutes later by Andrej Kramaric’s header.
Though the hosts grew in confidence, Croatia took the lead in the 11th minute of extra-time as Domagoj Vida rose highest from a corner to head past Igor Akinfeev.
As usual, Russian Federation went down fighting in front of a raucous crowd as Mario Fernandes headed a dramatic equalizer with five minutes of extra time left, only for the Brazilian-born player to turn villain as he missed their third shootout kick.
Croatia will now face England on Wednesday for a place in the World Cup final but first, here are five things we learned.
This Russia team – the lowest-ranked side in the tournament at 70 in the world rankings – wasn’t supposed to be in the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, competing in a quarterfinal against Croatia. Russian Federation beat Spain 4-3 and Croatia defeated Denmark 3-2 in the round of 16. In order for a “fairy-tale” ending for Croatia, as described by Luka Modric, to come true this World Cup, it must overcome England, either France or Belgium, and likely hostile crowds as many in Russian Federation would not hesitate to cheer against the team that knocked off their own country. Akinfeev denied Mateo Kovacic and nearly 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.
But Russia was following the visitors inch by inch as Ignashevich levelled the scores again 2-2. “What we achieved, that was so cool”, Andrey, a lawyer, said next to a street corner screen that had shown the match. Subasic was able to play through extra time and again made a key save in the penalty shootout as Croatia won 4-3 and advanced to the semifinals for the second time in its history. But slack defending allowed Croatia to level eight minutes later.
In Sochi, Croatia fans were massively outnumbered in a crowd of more than 40,000, but Dalic’s team had one notable backer – President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.
Fans noticed that Croatia played quite relaxed, and on the 37 minute of the match received a second yellow card. Only Harry Kane with six has more, but none so spectacular.
Croatia were on a four-match unbeaten run going into the game – their longest run to date in the competition. Daler Kuzyaev scored Russia’s third penalty, but when Ivan Rakitic coolly slotted home it signaled an agonizing end to Russia’s improbable dream.
Next will be England, who reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in 28 years with a 2-0 victory over Sweden earlier on Saturday.
And Denis Cheryshev within that has a battle against himself.
After Russia’s blistering start, Modric-led Croatia gradually controlled the ball and the first half saw 65 percent ball possession for Croatia.
Receiving the return, Chereyshev took a touch inside to move into a pocket of space before curling thunderously into the top left corner from 25 yards to mark his fourth goal of the tournament.