- Croatia reach World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1998
- The Balkan side have won two straight penalty shoot-outs at Russia 2018
- Andrej Kramaric played a key role in quarter-final win over the hosts
By Vjekoslav Paun with Croatia
Saturday night in Sochi is sure to live long in the memories of every Croatian, as the Balkan nation overcame a committed Russia side and their passionate support to win 4-3 on penalties after their dramatic quarter-final clash ended 2-2 after extra time.
There were some notable performances in Croatia’s triumph at the Fisht Stadium. Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic made some important saves, despite nursing a leg injury in the latter stages of the contest, while Ivan Rakitic showed his composure to score his side’s winning penalty in a shoot-out for a second straight match. Yet, the performance of Andrej Kramaric was also key in assuring Zlatko Dalic’s side continued their journey at these world finals.
"Honestly, I'm not even aware of what we've achieved,” said the 27-year-old, who cancelled out Denis Cheryshev’s spectacular opening goal with a headed finish late in the first half. “I am proud to be part of this team that will remain enrolled as one of the biggest in Croatian sports. But we do not want to stop now, we have to make it a step further."
The magnitude of reaching the semi-finals for the first time since the country’s World Cup debut at France 1998 proved evident from the celebrations that both the striker and his team-mates witnessed back home. "We here in Russia do not feel the joy of our fans in the cities of Croatia, but surely the emotions are very special,” Kramaric said. “Now, we have to get together and continue this way, for our great fans."
Having endured a similar test against Denmark in the Round of 16, Vatreni have shown a level of resiliency to reach this stage of the competition. "The match against Russia is yet another victory of our character. We have nerves of steel,” Kramaric said. “We showed how calm and self-confident we are. Perhaps the match was not the most beautiful, but it will be remembered. The goal I scored was dedicated to my family and friends. I will certainly remember it. It is a goal in the World Cup.”
Victory over the tournament hosts sets up a showdown against England in the last four in Moscow on Wednesday. It is a Three Lions side that Kramaric rates highly. "Before the World Cup, I chose England as one of the favourites,” he said. “They are young and fast, so it will not be easy for us. It will be an interesting game and we will fight to make the final."