Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened: Russia’s phenomenal run at their World Cup is over.
The home side, previously labelled as the worst Russian team to ever play in the tournament, has narrowly missed out on a semi-final berth after going down to Croatia in penalties on Saturday.
The match contained all the hallmarks of a Russian performance in 2018: dogged defence, solid goalkeeping, Cheryshev magic and–of course–penalties. It nearly got them over the line too.
Russia’s golden boy Denis Cheryshev made a win against the 20th-ranked Croatia a real possibility after opening up the scorecard in the 31st minute. He passed in the attacking half, ran into space and received the ball back to shoot truly from outside of the box. The winger’s fourth goal of the tournament was likely his best and got the Sochi crowd on their feet.
The hosts exit at the quarter-finals, but Denis @Cheryshev signs off Russia 2018 with another fantastic goal ?
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) July 7, 2018
They were not loud for long. Kramaric tied the game up nine minutes later with a header for Croatia, and that’s how the game stayed until the final whistle. Extra time provided highlights worthy of a World Cup quarterfinal.
Croatia’s Vida finished off a corner kick to take the lead with less than 20 minutes to go. They held the lead for 10 minutes. Then 15 minutes. The Russian dream seemed over, but Mario Fernandes had other plans. Fernandes headed in a free-kick in the 115th minute to tie the game up once again. Pandemonium ensued. It was time for penalties.
But the lightning-in-a-bottle penalty performance against Spain did not happen twice. Croatia were better on the day, both in penalties and general play, and took the semi-final spot with 4 goals to 3.
And just like that the Russian run was over. Sure, they won against easy-beats Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but they did it with class. To send home Spain and then seriously question Croatia is simply outstanding. Not even the most sport-obsessed pundits predicted this performance and the home team can leave the competition proud.
And on top of this, the last time Russia competed in a World Cup quarterfinal – as part of the Soviet Union – was 1970. This is a drought-breaking performance from the team in front of their home-crowd. And what a show they put on.