Russia's Denis Cheryshev scores stunner but defensive failings cost World Cup hosts
Russia's World Cup fairy tale came to an end in Sochi. A team that started its home tournament as the lowest side in the FIFA ranking came within a penalty shootout of a semifinal.
The hosts looked brave from the start, refusing to sit deep and defend with 10 men behind the ball as they did in the round of 16 against Spain. It paid off: Croatia's set-up was offensive and turned out to be vulnerable to Russia's counter-attacks.
Defensive fragility was evident once again. Russia were coming into the game with five goals conceded from set pieces -- the most among all of the quarterfinalists -- and on Saturday night in Sochi they conceded from two headers.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Stanislav Cherchesov sprang a surprise by refusing to stick to the defensive 5-3-1-1 formation that stifled Spain. He reverted to a four-man defence, which was potentially risky against a team with a huge attacking threat. Still, getting the game as far as penalties meant his plan worked.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Igor Akinfeev, 7 -- Had to deal with only three shots on target in 120 minutes. Made one good save and saved a penalty in the shootout. Couldn't do much about the goals that were conceded.
DF Mario Fernandes, 7 -- Ran up and down his right wing for 120 minutes. At fault for a couple of positional errors, lost possession to start the attack that ended in the Croatia goal in the first half. Made up for that by scoring a crucial equaliser in extra time. Missed a penalty in the shootout.
DF Sergey Ignashevich, 7 -- The CSKA Moscow defender turns 39 next Saturday, but he fought until the very end, putting himself on the line and blocking shots at every opportunity. Scored in the shootout.
DF Ilya Kutepov, 5 -- Lucky not to concede a penalty when holding Mario Mandzukic in the first half, committed a foul that resulted in a dangerous free kick soon after. Should have done better with the first conceded goal.
DF Fedor Kudryashov, 5 - Positioning was vulnerable, letting Croatia have too much space down the left flank. Also culpable for the first conceded goal.
MF Denis Cheryshev, 7 -- Scored a great goal to open the scoring and consistently looked dangerous on the break.
MF Aleksandr Samedov, 5 -- Struggled to keep up with the tempo of the game. Won just three of 11 take-ons. Subbed off after 54 minutes.
MF Roman Zobnin, 6 -- Made 10 interceptions and two tackles, worked as a shield to the defensive line but was still dribbled past on five occasions. Could have done better at keeping Luka Modric at bay.
MF Daler Kuzyaev, 6 -- Worked hard for the team but was quiet and unenthusiastic when required to support attacks.
MF Aleksandr Golovin, 7 -- Was everywhere, kept pressing in the second half of extra time. Didn't have any real chances in attack, though.
FW Artem Dzyuba, 7 -- Held the ball up well as usual, was essential to Russia's attacks and assisted Cheryshev for the first goal.
MF Aleksandr Erokhin, 6 -- Was dangerous at free kicks, added physicality to the midfield.
FW Fedor Smolov, 4 -- Another disappointing performance. Offered nothing in attack after replacing Cheryshev, missed a penalty in the shootout.
MF Yuri Gazinskiy, 5 -- Didn't impress after replacing Dzyuba, lost all of his five duels in the match.
MF Alan Dzagoev, 7 -- Was a prematch doubt with a back spasm, but made the most of his 18 minutes. Made three key passes, one of which was an assist for Mario Fernandes' goal that took the game to penalties.
Artur Petrosyan is a Russian journalist based in Moscow. Twitter: @arturpetrosyan