Ivan Rakitic scored the winning penalty as Croatia beat Russia 4-3 in a shoot-out after a 2-2 draw to end the World Cup hopes of the host nation and advance to a semi-final against England.
Brazil-born Mario Fernandes had kept Russia’s dream alive when he headed home in the 115th minute to level and force penalties.But he and Fyodor Smolov both failed to convert their spot-kicks in Sochi.
Andrej Kramaric and Domagoj Vida found the net for Croatia prior to penalties as they advanced to their first World Cup semi-final since 1998.
Here are the things we learned from the Fisht Stadium.
ONE STEP FORWARD, BUT ONE STEP BACK
Croatia booked a semi-final spot against England but their performance yet again mirrored their shirts – chequered. Indeed, the Three Lions have little to fear from Zlatko Dalic’s side.
All the verve and vivacity promised by this classy team possessing the twin orchestral creators of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic was saved for and used up in the dazzling demolition of Argentina.
The win over Nigeria was routine but uninspired, while the 2-1 victory over tiny Iceland was only secured late on.
They required penalties to edge past Denmark in the last-16 and although Modric missed a spot-kick in injury time, one wonders where they would be without the Real Madrid maestro’s steady direction.
He was tireless but largely limited against Russia, his early influence stumped by playing in a deeper role as Kramaric was deployed in behind Mario Mandzukic.
By the time Marcelo Brozovic entered the fray after the hour mark to push him up the pitch, the 32-year-old’s rhythm was already knocked off beat.
Croatia were one paced, lacked any ingenuity outside of Modric and were fortunate to secure progression.
It was one step forward. But in reality, it was also a step back.
WHO DO YOU LUKA FOR SUPPORT?
So when Modric is man-marked, and as was the case against Russia at times, doubled up on, who can Croatia credibly call upon?
Rakitic was once again a picture of calm amid chaos in dispatching the definitive spot-kick. But as he did against Denmark, he offered little outside of that.
The Barcelona midfielder touched the ball 112 times but failed to produce one key pass with his use of the ball while accurate, largely just side to side as Croatia probed without penetration.
Ivan Perisic arrived in Russia with a big reputation having previously been linked with Manchester United. But has so far flattered to deceive.
Ante Rebic on the opposite flank is a livewire, who fizzles out as games go on.
Ultimately, they owed their success to fortune with both their goals down to a slackness in the Russian defence, first in their scattered marking to allow Kramaric acres of space to head home in the box and then to allow a tame Vida header to creep in from a corner.
Even in the shootout, Fernandes and Smolov assisted them with two brainless efforts.
Modric ran the show against Jordan Henderson in the Champions League final so will no doubt be looking forward to that contest. But if the rest of his team-mates don’t pick up their performances, it may end up being inconsequential what he does.
ANOTHER CHERYSHEV ON TOP OF THE CAKE
Such has been the eruptive nature this of this World Cup, any one of about 10 goals could be considered the tournament’s best.
And Denis Cheryshev within that has a battle against himself. His fourth on home soil added to the two slick strikes he plundered against Saudi Arabia in Russia’s tournament opener.
The phrase ‘goal of the tournament’ has been spewed out on a number of occasions, but it is fair to chuck Cheryshev’s latest explosive effort in the mix.
It was a rocket, and one fired straight up Croatia as it shocked them in to action with their equaliser arriving four minutes later.
The towering frontman Artem Dzyuba laid the ball off perfectly and Cheryshev’s deft first touch on his right foot took it away from a diving Luka Modric before he detonated with his hammer of a left-foot.
Danijel Subasic was rooted to his spot, although quite why he was stood on the edge of his six-yard box as Cheryshev advanced is beyond us.
Still, take nothing away from the Villarreal forward who is doing his best to build a reputation as a scorer of great goals rather than being known for the institutional embarrassment during his stint with Real Madrid.
Four goals, three of them stunners, the 27-year-old is the James Rodriguez of this World Cup and only Oleg Salenko (six in 1994) has netted more in a single edition of the tournament for Russia (including USSR).
Know more about Sport360 Application