A wildly entertaining quarterfinal match between Russia and Croatia produced the only just and acceptable result: Croatia advancing in dramatic fashion, and the world being spared a Russia-England semifinal matchup of pure awfulness.
This match was so much fun. Russia struck first, in the 30th minute: Denis Cheryshev ripped a gorgeous left-footed strike after a nifty first touch up the middle of Croatia’s defense:
Croatia clawed back to even just about eight minutes later, on a quick scoring move built on a delightfully unlikely series of touches up the left side:
The craziest sequence of regular time—and the clearest sign that dark, mystical forces were aligned to keep Russia in this—came in the 60th minute, when the ball pinged around inside the Russian box before falling to the feet of Ivan Perišić, directly in front of goal, with time for a couple touches and just the clearest shot at glory he could ever want:
Come on! That’s got to be a goal! Stupid post!
The last minutes of regulation were unbearably tense, with Croatia largely dominating possession but Russia still lurking and looking dangerous on counterattacks and set pieces. With three minutes left of regular time, Croatian keeper Danijel Subašić pounced on a loose ball headed towards the goal line and immediately pulled up with what looked like some sort of painful hamstring injury. Croatia, out of substitutes, had no choice but to keep Subašić on the pitch, which added some extra terror to a scorching try on goal moments later that Subašić could only punch dangerously straight out into a churning sea of players. Both teams were ultimately lucky to make it to extra time.
It was in the first period of extra time that Croatia broke through:
Domagoj Vida is credited with the goal, but take a moment to appreciate the forbearance of Vedran Ćorluka, who had the presence of mind to not just flail wildly as his team’s best chance at a goal trickled directly across his path. His restraint paid off when a confused Russian defense let Vida’s header roll home.
But Russia kept coming in the second half of extra time, putting relentless, serious pressure on the Croatian goal. Subašić gobbled up a ripped volley and later extended to slap away a dangerous cross in the 111th minute, but after a dreadful handball on the edge of the box in the 114th minute, Croatia’s defense went to sleep on the ensuing free kick and left Mário Fernandes completely unmarked in front of goal, where he headed home the perfect service.
The match wound up in penalties, where Croatia prevailed in part due to a not very impressive showing by a couple Russians. Ivan Rakitić eventually stepped up with a chance to send Croatia through with the final kick, and did the shit:
Croatia survived a second straight game that ended in penalties after their thrilling win over Denmark. Russia’s run was one of the more impressive stories of the 2018 World Cup, and their fans responded to the deflating loss by saluting their team with a prolonged standing ovation after the finish. Croatia advances to face England in the semifinal.