Russiaâ€™s fairy-tale run at the ongoing World Cup at home here ended in tears on Saturday night at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in the Black Sea city of Sochi. Shouts of RO-SSI-YA that dominated every space here right from the opening game inside the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow literarily died out with Ivan Rakiticâ€™s match-winner. It was an emotional evening for all. Russia was just a shouting distance from playing in the semi finals for the first time since 1966 (as Soviet Union). They missed the train to the semis by a whisker! The defeat was a heartache that not a few of their boisterous fans were left without wiping tears from the eyes. It was one midnight that the country of almost 145 million people will not forget in a hurry. The penalty shoot out proved a cruel anti-climax of a sort for the Reds who as the lowest ranked team here turned formbooks on their heads.
After regulation deadlocked at 2-2, Russiaâ€™s self-believe played a greater role in seeing the Reds surge, and looking for the winning goal in the added extra-time. Each time they had the ball, their roaring fans urged them on but the Croats refused to be cowed.
With time ticking away on the clock, Russia, perhaps were looking in the direction of Igor Akinfeev to rise up again to the challenge the way he did against Spain in that Round of 16 earlier shootout which the Reds won 3-2. But with the saying that thunder doesnâ€™t strike same spot twice ringing in the ears of all inside that Fisht Olympic Stadium, it was obvious that that theory will be proved wrong that night. Both Russia and Croatia passed same route to get to the quarter-final stage. Like Russia, Croatia survived a bruising battle with Denmark. After one-all regulation and added time result, Luka Modric and his colleagues pulled through 3-2 in Shoot out.
And so, many Russian fans were already seeing Akinfeev as the next Lev Yashin to lead them to the Last Four stage. But that was not to happen. Brazilian-born Mario Fernandes who had kept Russiaâ€™s dream alive when he headed home in the 115th minute to drag the game against Croatia into penalties failed to convert his kick, just as Fedor Smolov. Mateo Kovacic had his penalty saved by Akinfeev, but Marcelo Brozovic, Modric and Vida all netted theirs before Rakitic stroked in the winner to send Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic who watched the encounter from the VIP Box into dancing mood. The chants of R0-SSI-YA also stuck on the throat of Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, but he was magnanimous in applauding Grabar-Kitarovic for her countryâ€™s passage to confront England in the second semi final on Wednesday at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
â€œWe leave the tournament with tears in our eyes but our heads held high,â€ the Russian team tweeted as the stadium emptied of the 45, 000 or so who had lost their voices after the shootout.
Coach Stanislav Cherchesov looked visibly distraught from the defeat.
â€œI am still not myself yet,â€ he admitted after listening to a press conference question and then being unable to say a word.
Midfielder Roman Zobnin sounded very similar moments after he walked off the pitch.
â€œI have no emotions left. I left them all out there,â€ he said with difficulty. I feel empty inside.â€ Indeed, after raising the hopes of their countrymen and women, Russians indeed felt empty on Saturday night, same way the streets were empty.