Rakitic breaks Russian hearts, seals semis spot for Croatia

Croatia reached the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1998, overcoming a resistant host side via penalties.

Luka Modric (centre) said his side showed character on Saturday to get through “another drama.”   -  AP

Ivan Rakitic scored the winning penalty as Croatia beat Russia 4-3 in a shoot-out after a dramatic 2-2 draw on Saturday to end the World Cup hopes of the host nation and advance to a semifinal against England. Brazilian-born Mario Fernandes had kept Russia’s dream alive when he headed home in the 115th minute to level the scores and force penalties, but he and Fedor Smolov both failed to convert their spot-kicks in Sochi.

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Croatia, for whom Andrej Kramaric and Domagoj Vida had earlier found the net, advances to its first World Cup semifinal since 1998. It will face England, which beat Sweden 2-0 earlier, at the Luzhniki Stadium Moscow on Wednesday.

Croatia captain Luka Modric said his side showed character on Saturday to get through “another drama.”

WATCH - Highlights: Croatia vs Russia

“Another drama for us,” said Real Madrid midfielder Modric. “We didn't play well in the first half, we didn't control the game as we wanted. From the start of the second half we played much better, but unfortunately we couldn't finish the game.”

‘Character’

Croatia had also needed spot-kicks to get past a dogged Denmark in the last 16, but Modric insisted the team would not be fatigued for the last-four clash against England at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday. “We showed the character again,” he added. “We are in the semifinals, we will enjoy the game. We have enough time to rest and prepare well.”

IN PICTURES: Croatia vs Russia

It is only the second time that Croatia has reached the World Cup semis since becoming an independent nation, having finished third in 1998.

For Russia, on the other hand, it was a chance lost to gain a semifinal berth for the first time since 1966. Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov lamented that luck had turned against the World Cup host after it lost on penalties.

‘Still want to fight that war’

“Luck was against us,” Cherchesov said. “My guys feel like conscript soldiers whose term of service was over just when they were preparing to go into battle. They still want to fight that war.”

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Cherchesov walked into the room still visibly dazed after the dramatic ending. He asked a reporter to repeat the first question, saying after a long pause: “I am still not myself.”

Russia was the lowest-ranked team in the tournament and expectations were not high. But Cherchesov said he knew “from the first second that I put this team together how far we could go.”

“People not only started to believe in us, but the whole nation loves us now,” he said.

(Video courtesy: FIFA TV)

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