CROATIA DEFEAT RUSSIA IN NAIL-BITING SHOOTOUT

Croatia set up a World Cup semi-final with England after winning 4-3 on penalties against Russia.

Russia and Croatia were playing for the chance to take on England in the semi-finals after their win against Sweden earlier on Saturday, and Croatia might have considered themselves favourites before an attritional slugfest.

However, Russia have impressed all comers so far in this tournament, and surprise package Denis Chersyshev scored one of the goals of the tournaments when he whipped in an effort 25 yards from goal around Danijel Subasic.

Russia looked in control, but Croatia rediscovered the verve they showed in the early stages when Mario Mandzukic strode into the box on the left to pick out Andrej Kramaric, who glanced a smart header into the far corner.

At 1-1, the game was evenly balanced and the Russian PM and Croatian president exchanged handshakes for each goal, keeping geopolitics well to the back of everyone’s minds.

In the second half, Luka Modric was lucky not to be carded for a flick out on Aleksandr Golovin, and Karamic then had an overhead kick that went firmly towards goal but was easily saved by Igor Akinfeev.

Just before the hour mark, Ivan Perisic crashed a low shot in the box against the post, a wonderful chance to go ahead that left the match level despite Croatia’s dominance in possession. Akinfeev was trapped by a mass of his own players, and it looked as just an inch further towards goal would have sealed victory.

With the game drawing to a close, Artem Dzyuba was withdrawn as he and the rest of the Russian tired appeared to grow tired with the summer heat.

The draining nature was made clear when Subasic pulled up with what looked like a mixture of cramp and a hamstring pull as full time drew near, with no substitutes left to call upon, but he was able to continue after heavy physio work in the interim.

Croatia grabbed what looked to be the winner when Luka Modric – anonymous for much of the match – swung in a corner for Domagoj Vida to rise above the defence and head into the far corner as Akinfeev scrambled to get across, for only his third international goal.

With both teams exhausted the match headed into the second half of extra time, and Russia’s best chance came from Daler Kuzyayev’s volley into Subasic’s grateful arms. Moments later, Mario Fernandes popped up to meet Alan Dzagoev’s set-piece to glance in a vital, superb header, five minutes from the end of time.

Fyodor Smolov saw the recovered Subasic save his penalty, the first of the shootout, to given them an initial advantage, before Akinfeev saved Mateo Kovacic’s effort to level.

Fernandes fluffed his chance when he scuffed penalty wide of the post, leaving things a 1-1, before Modric’s penalty was met by Akinfeev before it squeezed in off the post.

Ivan Rakitic took the final penalty after nine went before him, calmly slotting home to give his side a semi-final tie against England.

Eurosport

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018
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