Croatia narrowly beat Russia 4-3 in a penalty shootout (2-2 AET) to book a place in the last four of the 2018 World Cup - their first semi-final appearance in two decades.
Both teams came into the quarters on the back of shootouts, as Russia upset Spain and Croatia overcame Denmark (and Kasper Schmeichel in particular).
Denis Cheryshev scored a beauty to put the hosts ahead just after the half-hour mark; Andrej Kramarić responded with a header in less than ten minutes, as the two sides went into half-time all square.
The second half was a battle of wits and nerves but no goals.
Extra time drama saw Croatia go into the lead courtesy of a Domagoj Vida header but there was more to come, as Mario Fernandes headed in the equaliser in the dying minutes of extra time.
With the game going to penalties, Zlatko Dalic’s side battled on and held their nerves once again to prevail over the brave-heart hosts for their second straight shootout victory. The Croats will now face England in the second semi-final due to be played Wednesday next week.
Here are the five key talking points from the showdown in Sochi.
#5 Hosts’ fairy-tale run ends but loads to cherish
Going into this World Cup as the lowest-ranked nation (at 70, no less) and qualifying for the event on the account of being hosts, not much was expected of Russia.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s men did nothing much to alleviate the sense of foreboding and possible humiliation either, going into the showstopper event on the back of seven games without a victory.
Five games into World Cup 2018 though, and the scenario could not have been any more beautiful for the hosts than if it were scripted for them. They beat Egypt and Saudi Arabia convincingly, only losing to Uruguay in the group stages.
Their fortress of a defence and a tireless, never-give-up attitude saw them get the better of a bewildered and clueless Spanish side and Croatia could not beat them in normal or extra time.
A dream run ended for the host nation today, but Russian fans and players will have a bunch of brilliant memories from this tournament to cherish for their lives and pass on to future generations.