Hosts Russia faced heartbreak last night, after being dumped out of the World Cup on penalties by Croatia, despite making miraculous comeback to make it 2-2. Dennis Cheryshev gave Russia a fantastic start with a curling effort before former Leicester City striker, Andreas Kramaric got Croatia back into the game before the end of the first half. Both teams had chances during the second half but could not take them and went into extra time. Domagoj Vida’s header brought Croatia ahead for the first time and looked set to win the game, before right back Mario Fernandes smashed the ball home with his own header to give the hosts hope.
The first goal came when Villarreal’s Dennis Cheryshev started a great piece of build up play, finding Artem Dzyuba, before the ball was laid back to him with a cool pass. Cherysev only needed one touch before curling the ball past Danijal Subasic to get his fourth goal of the tournament, he ignited the crowd and give Russia hope of a semi-final for the first time since 1966.
However, the lead was short lived when Croatia responded. Juventus’ Mario Mandzukic found his way into the Russian box, before sliding the ball to his right and found Andreas Kramaric, who quickly headed the ball past Igor Akinfeev to bring them level.
During the second half both teams had a fair amount of chances, most notably Croatia’s Ivan Perisic, who controlled the ball well after a scramble in the Russian penalty area, he managed hit the ball on target towards the goal, beat Akinfeev but just clipped the inside of post before the ball went wide. Russia’s best chance came when Mario Fernandes clipped the ball into the area, and Aleksandr Yerokhin headed the ball over the crossbar.
With neither side finding the net, the game went into extra time. During the first half of extra time, the captain Luka Modric delivered a picture-perfect corner trying to find Mandzukic but instead picked out Domagoj Vida, who’s header was masked by Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren, confusing Akinfeev, and the ball rolled into the back of the net. Croatia looked set for the semi-finals.
And yet, more drama was to come. Five minutes before the end of the second half, Russia won a freekick most of the way inside the Croatian half. Alan Dzagoev stood over the ball, hoisted it into the area, and Mario Fernandes leapt up to nod the ball past Subasic to get the hosts level and take the game to a penalty shootout.
It was the time for the shoot-out. Both teams had taken on Spain and Demark respectively in a shoot-out. Russia stepped up first with Fyodor Smolov, he scored against Spain but unfortunately hit the post. Marcelo Brozovic stepped up next. Scored. Dzagoev was next. Scored. Mateo Kovacic of Real Madrid followed, but his effort was saved by Akinfeev. The Russian hero Fernandes picked the ball up after. His first goal ever for Russia had got them the equaliser, but he smashed it wide of the post. Luka Modric went next. His effort just about crept in, after Akinfeev got a finger too it forcing it onto the bar, but still went in. 38-year-old Sergi Ignashevich stepped up. Scored. Croatia’s extra time scorer Vida went after. Scored. Dalar Kuzyayev had to score to keep Russia in the game. Scored. All eyes turned to Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona. Score and Croatia go through. Miss it goes to sudden death. He stepped up and sent Akinfeev the wrong way and Croatia make their first semi-final since 1998.
What next for both teams?
Russia should hold their heads high. Most had not given them a chance before the start of the World Cup and expected them to be eliminated by the group stages. However, after a fantastic start crushing Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the opening game and defeating Egypt secured their place in the knockout stages, despite losing to Uruguay in the final group game. They the went on to shock the world by knocking out Spain on penalties. They had a good blend between experience and youth, with a high amount attacking football and physicality. I have high hopes for Russian football going forward.
As for Croatia, they are now all what stands between England and the World Cup final. They have struggled in the knockout stages, having to take both Denmark and now Russia to penalties to secure the win. They do play a good amount of counter attacking football and use their midfielders to get the ball in behind the oppositions defence to find their strikers. If England are to take anything away from this match, they must get outscore Croatia early on, and make high use of the defence to hold down the counterattack of Perisic, Modric and Rakitic.