Russia is out of its World Cup, but not without a fight to the very last kick.
Croatia won a penalty-kick shootout 4-3, cementing the nation's first berth in the World Cup semifinals since 1998 after a thrilling 2-2 draw. Domagoj Vida's 100th-minute header had Croatia leading in extra time, but Mario Fernandes's header in the 115th pulled Russia back level and forced penalty kicks as the two sides battled for a place in the semis.
Andrej Kramaric's header answered Denis Cheryshev's stunning hit in regulation, which ultimately forced the two into extra time for a second straight match in the knockout stage. Russia ousted Spain in penalties in the round of 16 and had the momentum just after the half-hour mark, but Croatia, which beat Denmark in PKs to advance, answered soon after and enjoyed the better of the run of play throughout.
Croatia started the shootout on top, when Russia's Fyodor Smolov had a horrible attempt saved by goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, the hero vs. Denmark.
Marcelo Brozovic made his kick, seizing the early edge. That was nullfied after the second round. Alan Dzagoev made his kick, and Mateo Kovacic had his saved by Igor Akinfeev, making it 1-1 after two rounds.
Fernandes went from hero to goat on his spot kick, missing the goal entirely, and Luka Modric narrowly put Croatia back in front, with Akinfeev saving his shot off the post, only to have it go in.
Sergei Ignashevich scored for Russia, only to be answered by Vida, which pushed Russia to the brink. Daler Kuzyaev converted, but Ivan Rakitic did as well, giving Croatia the 4-3 triumph on spot kicks.
Croatia winner will face England, a 2-0 winner over Sweden earlier on Saturday, in the semifinals on Wednesday.
Russia pushed early for a go-ahead strike, with Artem Dzyuba playing a smart ball ahead for Cheryshev down the right-hand side of the box in the second minute. He had his attempt blocked, but it was a statement of intent from the Russians, who were more content to absorb pressure and cede possession against Spain.
Russia continued to cause problems three minutes later. Aleksandr Golovin got to the endline and sent in a cross that was headed away, but it didn't travel far at all, and Dzyuba tried to volley the clearance home, only to have it blocked and put out for a corner.
Croatia's first attempt came off a corner of its own in the seventh minute. Ante Rebic was able to get his head to a second ball, but he couldn't direct it on frame, instead harmlessly putting it over the bar.
Croatia had another chance go begging in the 17th minute after Rebic earned a free kick just outside the box. Rakitic hooked the chance well over the bar, though, as the match remained scoreless.
Russia opened the scoring in the 31st minute through its World Cup star, Cheryshev. After scoring three times in the group stage, he sprung for another beauty Saturday, receiving a pass in stride before curling a gorgeous left-footed strike by a rooted Subasic to make it 1-0.
With momentum fully on Russia's side, Croatia struck back with a much-needed equalizer. It came off a seemingly innocuous goal kick, with Croatia playing the ball forward into space for Mario Mandzukic down the left-hand side. He crossed for Kramaric, who headed home by Akinfeev to make it 1-1 in the 39th minute.
Kramaric opted for the spectacular in trying to get his second, attempting a bicycle kick from about 15 yards out after an extended piece of Croatian possession in the Russian third, but he couldn't get enough power or precision on it, bouncing his chance to Akinfeev in the 51st minute.
Ivan Perisic thought he'd given Croatia the lead on the hour mark. With Akinfeev scrambling to get back into position, Perisic had the ball fall to him with space to shoot in the center of the box. He hooked his opportunity off the inside of the post, and it somehow managed to toe the goal line without going in before rolling to safety and allowing Russia to breathe easier.
Russia was holding on in the face of Croatian possession, but it had a great chance to sneak a winner in the 83rd minute. A needless handball gifted Golovin with a free kick from about 20 yards out on the left-hand side, but his dangerous curling ball was headed to safety, as Croatia escaped with the match still 1-1.
Neither could find a go-ahead strike in regulation, and the two sides, for a second time in this knockout stage, headed to extra time.
Croatia was forced into its extra–and final–substitution in the 98th minute, when right back Sime Vrsaljko picked up an injury and could not go on. That was significant, given that Subasic appeared to have tweaked a hamstring at the end of regulation, though he played through it. Veteran Vedran Corluka came on in his place.
Moments later, Croatia took the lead in the 100th minute off a corner kick–one that was needlessly conceded after it appeared Akinfeev could have caught a cross that was instead put out for the set piece. Vida was the first to head it down, and Akinfeev appeared screened as the ball caromed inside the post to make it 2-1.
Russia threatened for an equalizer in the 112th minute off a corner kick of its own. Subasic punched away the initial kick, but it fell for Kuzyaev, who rifled on frame. He hit it right to where Subasic was, though, and the goalkeeper made the clean catch to end the threat.
A deliberate handball by Josip Pivaric gifted Russia another set-piece opportunity in the 114th minute, just outside the box on the right-hand side, and the hosts took advantage of it. Fernandes headed home Dzagoev's free kick, making it 2-2 with just minutes to spare before an apparent elimination.
Elimination came in penalties, a harsh exit for a valiant host, who made it farther than most could have imagined, and very nearly returned to Moscow for a semifinal, a place ultimately that goes to Croatia and its golden generation.
Here were the lineups for both teams:
Here are the rosters for both sides:
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Brugge), Andrei Lunyov (Zenit St. Petersburg)
Defenders: Mario Fernandes (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Rubin Kazan), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Fyodor Kudryashov (Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Andrei Semyonov (Akhmat Grozny), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St. Petersburg)
Midfielders: Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Yuri Gazinsky (FC Krasnodar), Alexander Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Daler Kuzyaev (Zenit St. Petersburg), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Alexander Samedov (Spartak Moscow), Alexander Yerokhin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Yuri Zhirkov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Roman Zobnin (Spartak Moscow)
Forwards: Artyom Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Alexei Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fyodor Smolov (FC Krasnodar)
Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov
Goalkeepers: Lovre Kalinic (Dinamo Zagreb), Dominik Livakovic (Gent), Danijel Subasic (Monaco)
Defenders: Duje Caleta-Car (Red Bull Salzburg); Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), Josip Pivaric (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Strinic (AC Milan), Domagoj Vida (Besiktas), Sime Vrsajlko (Atletico Madrid)
Midfielders: Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Filip Bradaric (Rijeka), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter), Mateo Kovacic (Real Madrid), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona)
Forwards: Nikola Kalinic (Milan), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan), Marko Pjaca (Juventus), Ante Rebic (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Manager: Zlatko Dalic