Russia Loses, May Still Figure Out Way to Win World Cup

Croatia's midfielder Ivan Rakitic (R) scores his penalty past Russia's goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev during the Russia 2018 World Cup quarter-final football match between Russia and Croatia at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on July 7, 2018. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Igor Akinfeev fails to save Ivan Rakitic’s game-winning penalty. ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

It was part marathon, part demolition derby, but Croatia found a way to outlast Russia in the World Cup quarterfinal on Saturday. The match seesawed through both regulation and extra time, but Croatia held its nerve during the penalty shootout. It will play England in the semifinal on Wednesday, assuming FIFA officials don’t have an abrupt change of heart during their stay in Russia. (Perhaps someone should check the Hermitage in case it mysteriously loses any paintings before next week.)

Russia will be disappointed that it couldn’t win its second-straight knockout game on penalties, but it was a minor miracle the country even got to the quarterfinals in the first place. The hosts failed to win seven straight matches leading up to the World Cup and was the lowest-ranked team in the entire tournament. Nonetheless, it played with incredible spirit in its wins against Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Spain. The players’ energy during that last match in particular was so impressive, it might even raise a few eyebrows. (Because it was so inspiring.)

Russia wasn’t all grit and graft, however, and it managed to play with adventure and some real skill during this run. Striker Denis Cheryshev scored a World Cup’s worth of incredible goals on his own, and the opener against Croatia might have been his best.

Croatia equalized in the 40th minute through an Andrej Kramarić header, and the deadlock lasted until the end of regulation. Croatia struck first in extra time when Domagoj Vida’s effort snuck inside the post from a corner.

If millions of people aren’t sporting VIda haircuts tomorrow, it’s because Russia found a way to undo his heroic would-be winner with a set piece of its own. (And that’s the only reason no one will be rocking the Vida.) Mário Fernandes, Russia’s Brazilian-born right back, rose highest to a free kick in the 115th minute and sent a nation that has been in delirious disbelief for three solid weeks into even more incredulous delirium.

Both Russia and Croatia won their Round of 16 matches on penalty kicks, though you couldn’t tell by watching Russia’s attempts in the quarterfinal. Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subašić suffered a hamstring injury at the end of regulation, but he received enough magic spray to go the duration and was the hero yet again. (Though he’ll have to share some of the credit with the Russian players who couldn’t keep their spot kicks on goal.)

Enjoy Croatia’s final penalty in all its nail-biting glory before FIFA officials revisit the match tape and force the teams to replay the quarterfinal because the referee missed a first-half throw-in call.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the 2018 World Cup.