Croatia captain Luka Modric believes his side were destined to do it the hard way after beating hosts Russia 4-3 on penalties to book a place in the World Cup semi-finals against England.
Ivan Rakitic converted the decisive spot-kick after Mario Fernandes, who had netted an equaliser for Russia with five minutes of extra-time remaining to level the match at 2-2, hit his effort from 12 yards wide.
Denis Cheryshev had put Russia in front in the 31st minute with a superb strike – his fourth goal of the tournament – but that was cancelled out eight minutes later by Andrej Kramaric’s header.
In the 11th minute of extra-time Domagoj Vida nodded in, before Fernandes brought things level once again.
Croatia’s win sees them emulate their 1998 side by reaching the World Cup’s last four, and on Wednesday will face England at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium for a place in the final.
Modric said: “Our style was cramped a bit and maybe we did not want to risk with passes, so we had to balance it out in the second half.
“We dominated in extra-time and were the better team, we should have finished the job before penalties – but maybe it is written in the stars that we had to go through the extra drama.
“We had players go down injured, we hit the woodwork, had chances but did not convert them.
“After we went 2-1 ahead, we should have maintained our focus, but there was a lapse of concentration.
“At certain moments we lacked power, but we have played two matches of 120 minutes of football in six days, and of course this will leave a mark on you and you have to pay the toll for such exertions. Thank God we have shown our character.”
Modric knows there will be no easy ride against England at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
“We expect a very difficult and tough, tight, demanding match, every match at this World Cup is like that,” Modric said at a post-match press conference, broadcast via FIFATV.
“We have to enjoy the moment and tomorrow we have to prepare for England.
“We watched the game today and saw how good they are from dead-ball situations, so will have to focus more on defending set-pieces, because we conceded towards the end today from a set-piece and we will have to improve that element of our game.”
Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov felt his side had exceeded their expectations after coming into the tournament as the lowest-ranked nation.
“We feel like conscripts, when they come to just before they have done their two-year (national) service, like those a bit demoralised who wanted to stay in the army for some more time longer. It would have been better if we could have stayed (in the World Cup) to July 15,” Cherchesov said at a post-match press conference.
“There was not a single national team playing in this World Cup which had the complete trust of their country. If they trusted us or not, we trusted ourselves.
“We said we can only prove our worth by working hard – I believe not only did people start to trust us, but the entire country of Russia is in love with us, they know what the national team is worth.
“We hope we have turned this situation for the better.
“Let’s not be happy with what we have achieved and go ahead.”
Russia had fought their way through Group A as runners-up and then beat Spain in a penalty shoot-out before their journey came to an end against Croatia in Sochi.
Cherchesov added: “My players were very brave, tonight luck was against us, but in four years from now, let’s talk again.”