Croatia Squeaks Past Host Russia on Penalties to Reach World Cup Semis

Kristopher Nichols
July 10, 2018

But Brazilian-born right-back Mario Fernandes - only able to play for Russia thanks to a presidential decree from Russian president Valdimir Putin - popped up with a header to turn himself into an unlikely hero and take the tie to penalties.His hero status, however, lasted all of 20 minutes as he missed a decisive penalty in the shootout, allowing Ivan Rakitic to step up and slot home the victor.

A few hundred metres away from the Olympic Fisht stadium is an amusement park.

Croatia will meet England for a place in the World Cup final on Wednesday 7 July. Indeed, the Three Lions have little to fear from Zlatko Dalic's side.

Russian Federation already caused an upset by eliminating Spain, while the Croatians started Serie A players Ivan Strinic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic.

The win over Nigeria was routine but uninspired, while the 2-1 victory over tiny Iceland was only secured late on. Russian Federation changed tactics to play five men in defence with a lone striker in Artem Dzyuba against Spain in the round of 16 on Sunday, an approach that restricted their opponents to just one chance in 90 minutes.

Croatia were one paced, lacked any ingenuity outside of Modric and were fortunate to secure progression. But in reality, it was also a step back. Russian Federation equalized in the final frame of extra time.

Rakitic was once again a picture of calm amid chaos in dispatching the definitive spot-kick.

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But the hosts were again on the back foot when Fernandes sent his attempt wide of the post, and though Akinfeev pushed Modric's shot onto the post, it fell just over the line to put Croatia back in front. But has so far flattered to deceive.

The giant forward seemed to nearly accidentally touch the ball into the path of Cheryshev and with nearly nowhere to go, the 26-year-old unleashed a thunderous left-footed strike into the top corner to leave Danijel Subasic rooted to the spot and demonstrating exactly why Real Madrid afforded a place in their academy to the player. Mario Fernandes (Russia) header from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner.

"Our style was cramped a bit and maybe we did not want to risk with passes, so we had to balance it out in the second half", the Real Madrid man said. But if the rest of his team-mates don't pick up their performances, it may end up being inconsequential what he does. The best part about a World Cup is that it throws up talents like Denis Cheryshev for the world to see.

The ailing Subasic managed to keep out Daler Kuzyaev but could do nothing as Fernandes popped up to draw his team level, converting Alan Dzagoev's free-kick after the CSKA Moscow midfielder was sent on for his first appearance since sustaining a hamstring injury in the tournament opener against Saudi Arabia. It was Cheryshev's fourth goal of the tournament.

Slack defending allowed Croatia to level eight minutes later.

And against Croatia came a third, the likely victor, as Cheryshev one-twoed with Artem Dzyuba down the left before curling powerfully into the top left corner from 25 yards, giving Russian Federation the lead.

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