The final quarter-final of the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia saw the hosts take on upbeat Croatia on Saturday. The final score of Croatia vs Russia was 2-2 after extra time.
Russia caused the biggest surprise of the tournament by knocking out former Champions Spain. They eclipsed them in a penalty shootout, and the highest ranked team in the tournament is defying expectations yet again.
Their opponents Croatia, on the other hand, had adopted the tag of the dark horses before the tournament. They won all their games in the group stage and had to dig deep to get past Denmark.
These two teams who were competing for a spot in the final four had a similar mentality, which led to an intense showdown in the Luhzniki Stadium.
It was the hosts who started the game better, as they had settled early on in the game. They were the confident team and were more assured of themselves. But, soon Croatia calmed their nerves and deployed their gameplan which led to them dominating the possession. Initially, it appeared that it would be The Red Checkers who would open the scoring.
However, as it has been the story of this tournament, the underdogs struck first. Russia took lead in the 31st minute through a sumptuous volley by Denis Cheryshev. This man has come alive in this tournament, and this was his fourth goal of the tournament.
Croatia had to respond quickly or else they the feeling of being in the unknown territory would cause them to make mistakes. They did exactly that, as the two strikers combined to bring the scores level. Andrej Kramaric scored his first goal at the World Cup and his tenth overall for his country.
The game had opened, and the next goal would see the momentum shift to the team who scored. Sadly for both team, the referee blew the half-time whistle, and the players would have to get used this pace of the game again.
If Croatia had control over themselves and were succumbing to pressure, the team would've scored easily in the early stages of the second half. It was all them in the first 15 of the second half, and Ivan Perisic should've scored in the 59th minute but he saw his shot come off from the upright. Unbelievable that the ball didn't go in, and Croatia hoped that this wasn't a sign of things to come.
Regardless of how much either team tried, no significant chance was created. We were going to the extra time after the referee called off the second-half with the scores still level.
In the first part of the extra-time, Croatia struck. A beautiful ball was chipped in by a corner, and it was Domagoj Vida who headed the ball home to take the lead for his side.
Now, all the team had to do was hold their nerves, and they would seal their spot against England in the Semi-Finals.
Sadly for them, they couldn't. Russia piled on them, which won the hosts a free kick in the 115th minute. Alan Dzagoev curled it in and Mario Fernades nodded the ball to once again level the score.
Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subasic was playing with roughly one foot in the last 30 minutes. He pulled his hamstring before the extra-time but battled on for his team. He pulled off insane saves, and this display of willpower was endearing to see. He looked distraught when Russia scored their second goal.
It almost seemed fitting that luck should decide who will face England in the semi-final, as football couldn't separate these two colossal warriors.
Croatia held their own when it mattered, to outscore the hosts by 4-3, and enter the semifinal.
Russia bids adiue to the competition, but this team has captured hears and minds of their entire country. Nobody expected them to be where they are, and this might just be a turning point for football in this country. They will only get better.