Croatia reached the World Cup semi-finals for the second time in their history with Ivan Rakitic again the hero in a 4-3 penalty shoot-out victory over Russia.
Rakitic slotted home the winning kick against Denmark in the last 16 and once again held his nerve to convert from the spot, with Mario Fernandes going from hero to villain by missing from 12 yards after his 115th-minute header had made it 2-2 deep into extra time.
After ending the home side's incredible run, Zlatko Dalic's side will aim to at least go one better than the famous 1998 vintage that finished third in France when they meet England at the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday.
Denis Cheryshev got Russia off to a brilliant start by marking his return to the starting line-up with yet another contender for goal of the tournament after his stunning efforts against Saudi Arabia and Egypt in the group stage, but Andrej Kramaric equalised just eight minutes later.
Domagoj Vida headed Luka Modric's corner home 10 minutes into the first extra period, only for Fernandes, the Brazil-born defender who was only granted Russia citizenship by president Vladimir Putin two years ago, to keep Russia’s hopes alive in a dramatic finish.
However, it was not to be for the resilient hosts, with goalkeeper Danijel Subasic saving Fedor Smolov's penalty and Fernandes firing wide before Rakitic kept his composure to put Croatia one match away from the final.
Goals & Highlights
Goal! Russia 2(3), Croatia 2(4). Ivan Rakitic (Croatia) converts the penalty with a right footed shot to the bottom left corner.
100 - Goal! Russia 1, Croatia 2. Domagoj Vida (Croatia) header from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Luka Modric with a cross following a corner.
39 - Goal! Russia 1, Croatia 1. Andrej Kramaric (Croatia) header from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Mario Mandzukic.
31 - Goal! Russia 1, Croatia 0. Denis Cheryshev (Russia) left footed shot from outside the box to the top left corner. Assisted by Artem Dzyuba.
Russia & Croatia face off in Sochi with a place in the final four on the line. Both sides went all the way to penalties in the round of sixteen and will be looking to get the job done in 90 minutes to avoid fatigue.
Hosts Russia has been the surprise package of the tournament and endured a real battle against Spain eventually prevailing after penalties. Captain Igor Akinfeev was the hero, pulling off a stunning save with his foot to give Russia the win.
After hardly seeing the ball in the round of sixteen, Stanislav Cherchesov’s side will be looking to play a slightly more expansive game at the Fischt stadium and will be cheered on by an expectant home crowd. Cherchesov will have to do without experienced wing-back Yuri Zhirkov who is unavailable for the game against Croatia.
Artem Dzyuba has been the embodiment of this Russian side, the bustling centre-forward is lively from set-pieces and links up well with the midfield. The Zenit Saint Petersburg striker will be looking to add to his tally for three goals and fire Russia into the semi-finals.
Croatia also progressed to the quarter-finals thanks to a penalty shoot-out victory over Denmark. Zlatko Dalić’s side has played some of the best football of the tournament and will be looking to emulate the heroes of 1998 who reached the semi-finals of the tournament in their first outing as an independent country.
Dalić may consider tweaking his side slightly for the game against the host nation. Both Luca Modric & Ivan Rakitic didn’t see enough of the ball against Denmark, and the Croatia boss may instruct his star midfielders to drop slightly deeper to start to dictate the play.
There is a comprehensive argument that Luca Modric has been the best player at the World Cup. The Real Madrid man showed nerves of steel in the penalty shootout, scoring his spot-kick despite having one saved by Kasper Schmichael in the second half. Modic will have to show leadership in Sochi if Croatia is to make it to the semi-finals for the second time in their history.
It promises to be a fascinating encounter Sweden & England battle it out for a place in the semi-finals of the World Cup. Watch the Live & Exclusive stream of the game on MAX HD3 & beIN SPORTS CONNECT.