RUSSIA’S World Cup dream ended within agonizing sight of the semi-finals as they went down 4-3 on penalties to Croatia on Saturday after another gallant performance in front of their fanatical fans which again belied their lowly ranking.
Having knocked out Spain on penalties in the previous round, Russia, 70th in the FIFA rankings, again defied the odds to take 20th ranked Croatia to a shootout with a 2-2 draw after extra time but on this occasion their marksmanship deserted them.
Croatia, a shadow of the team which cruised through their group with maximum points, won the shootout when Ivan Rakitic calmly netted and they will face England in the semi-finals in Moscow on Wednesday.
As usual, Russia 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.
Before that, Denis Cheryshev had rifled Russia in front with a long-range thunderbolt in the 31st minute before Andrej Kramaric equalized for Croatia six minutes before halftime.
Crotia then went in front with a soft header from substitute Domagoj Vida in the 101st minute, the first goal scored in extra time at the tournament.
Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov, whose side were without a win in seven matches before the finals, prompting many to fear an embarrassing group stage exit, was typically belligerent.
“I’ve very pleased at how the team played the whole World Cup, how it showed its character and worked to the maximum,” he said. “But you always start questions with negative things.
“This World Cup has been organized in the best possible way. What has happened, happened. We have been a very good host from the point of view of football and sports, organization and administration.”
Croatia, who reached their first semi-final since 1998, dominated possession over the 120 minutes but were let down by poor final passes and were vulnerable to Russia’s aerial game.
“We should have finished the job before penalties, but maybe it’s written in the stars that we have to go through the extra drama,” said inspirational playmaker Luka Modric.