Shootout heartbreak for hosts Russia as Croatia advance


SOCHI, Russia, July 7 – Russia’s spirited journey at the 2018 World Cup on home soil came to a halt after losing their quarterfinal clash against Croatia 4-3 on penalties at the Fisht Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

The fairytale looked to be over despite Denis Cheryshev’s stunner shortly after the half-hour mark sent the home crowd into raptures.

Cheryshev’s thunderbolt from just outside the box left Danijel Subasic rooted to the spot, but the goalkeeper’s blushes were spared when Andrej Kramaric drew Croatia level in the 39th minute.

Ivan Perisic looked to have finally made Croatia’s dominance count, but his scuffed shot hit the bar and stayed out as the hosts dug in their heels. A hamstring strain to Subasic, with many of his teammates tiring significantly, shortly before full time meant it was advantage Russia as the match was sent to extra time.

Russia were unable to take advantage of their superior conditioning and electric home support as neither side could find an opening.

Defender Domagoj Vida looked to have ended the contest with his 100th-minute header, but Russia’s agony turned into ecstasy as Mario Fernandes replied with a header of his own nine minutes later. Fernandes’ first international strike ensured that penalties would decide England’s opponents in the final four on Wednesday.

Fyodor Smolov was left to rue his attempted “Panenka” penalty as Subasic swatted away the first Russian effort.

A miss by Mateo Kovavic saw matters leveled again, but the luck shone on Croatia as Luka Modric’s spot kick, after Fernandes blasted wide, found the back of the net despite Igor Akinfeev getting a hand to deflect the ball onto the bar before it spun in.

Barcelona star Ivan Rakitic stepped up with the equation simply laid out before him. Score and send his country into the last four, miss and allow Russia one more chance at extending their party on home soil. He cooly converted to eliminate the hosts, whose underdog act finally played its last act.

– African News Agency (ANA)