Reflecting on Russia: Croatia Secured World Cup Semi-final One Year Ago Today

Daniela Rogulj

Slobodan Kadić

On July 7, 2018, Croatia and Russia met in front of 40,000 fans for the quarterfinal of the World Cup in Sochi. The stadium shook like an earthquake. 

It was rumored that Vladimir Putin, the KGB, and special units helped Russia reach this stage of the competition, though nothing could help the host nation that night in Sochi. Croatia won on penalties and thus secured a spot in the World Cup semi-final, reports 24 Sata on July 7, 2019.

Judging by the game against Denmark, after Russia, it was clear the entire country needed psychiatric help, or pills to pop to get them through over 120 brutal minutes. This quarter-final was not for the faint of heart.


It was a game where Danijel Subašić fought through the pain to magically save a penalty with one foot, 

“During the warm-up, I felt pain in my muscle. I massaged my leg and saw that I could continue. The pain came again later, but I did not want to give up, I knew that the coach needed another substitution because many of them complained about problems,” said Subašić.

However, Suba became a hero, a hero of the nation, who eliminated Russia and Denmark.


Many players could barely stand on their feet during the game and looked at the bench after any hope a change could be made. 

“I do not know where they gathered their strength, they made a miracle,” coach Zlatko Dalić said.

“During the break, masseuses quickly served the players, as in a Formula 1 box. I had a small edema, but I survived, as we survived the entire tournament,” said Subašić.

After 90 minutes, the game was 1:1, and after 120 minutes – 2:2. Croatia’s fate would be decided by penalties for the second consecutive game.

But after the team and Croatians across the world spent all of their nerves against Denmark, how would anyone survive this drama again?

“How did I survive through penalties? Here, my stomach is still shaking. Horror, but who cares, we have entered the top four in the world,” said Mario Mandžukić.

Just as against Denmark, the last penalty came down to Ivan Rakitić – and the world stopped. Rakitić scored, and Croatia was off to the World Cup semi-final.

The Croatian players sprinted from the half towards Rakitić, jumped on Zlatko Dalić and embraced Ivica Olić.

And there were tears. 

“I cried. No words can describe that feeling at that point, especially when it’s over,” says Rakitić.

Before the game, Rakitić said he watched ‘Rocky’, the cult classic with Sylvester Stallone, as a motivator. 


Slobodan Kadić

“I watched Rocky fight against Ivan Drago and he wondered if we could do something like that because the Russians were strong, aggresive and tall. But we have come to the victory tonight, like Rocky,” said Rakitić after the game.

Before the game, defender Vedran Ćorluka was certain Croatia would move on.

“They do not have a chance. I know them very well and we are better in all positions, just about all,” said Ćorluka of the Russia team.

“I am experiencing all of the emotions, there is a lump in my throat, I’m crying on the bench, I’m overwhelmed, I could not stop. I was not able to stop the tears, so much happened. The players ran to the penalty box, where they went for Rakitić,” Dalić wrote in his book” Russia of Our Dreams “.

The dressing room celebration lasted for three hours. The team belted “Moja domovina”, “Nije u šoldima sve”, and “Dome moj”.

Croatia finally left without voices, with exhaustion swept across their faces. But who cared. After twenty years, they had repeated Croatia’s greatest success and secured a spot in the World Cup semi-final. 

And their World Cup fairytale continued. 

To read more about sport in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page


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