As the lowest ranked team in the 2018 FIFA World Cup football tournament, no one, probably not even they themselves, expected the Russians to be playing quarterfinals footy, but their improbable dream was halted against Croatia, despite heroics of Fyodor Dostoyevsky-esque proportions by the Russian squad that managed to take the in-form team of the competition to a penalty shootout.
Croatia won the shootout 4 – 3 following a 2 – 2 draw at the end of regular, stoppage and extra time.
Russia looked to be headed out earlier during the game when they were down 2 – 1 off an extra time header by Croatian defender Domagoj Vida in the 101st minute.
The shocked crowd of Russian supporters in the stands sounded resigned to their fates when Russian defender Mario Fernandes headed the equaliser home in the 115th minute.
Russia perhaps demonstrated the advantage of playing hosts, as they entered the tournament ranked 70th in the world.
The run by the Russians even prompted President Vladimir Putin to call time in issuing denials over influencing the 2016 U.S. Presidential election to make a call to Russian manager Stanislav Cherchesov before and after the match.
According to Cherchesov, Putin told him, “Putin called me during the day, and he called me right now (post-match). He congratulated us on a very good game. He said what we showed on the field was great. I told him we were disappointed. He said we should have our eyes open and make the next steps.”
Croatia, too, progressed further than they had in twenty years. They last made it to the semis in 1998.
Russia appeared to have an edge heading into the shootout. Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic tweaked his hamstring earlier in the match and he appeared to be in sever difficulty, but Croatia had already exhausted all its substitutions, so they were compelled to live or die with Subasic.
Subasic stopped the opening penalty shot of Fyodor Smolov, who sent a rather meek effort toward the goal, the sort of kick a dad would make to a young son or daughter in the interest of instilling a sense of confidence in the child, or to prevent the footy from rolling out into the street and into the path of traffic.