Croatia captain Luka Modric said his side showed character on Saturday to get through “another drama” after edging to a second straight shootout win to knock out Russia and set up a World Cup semi-final with England.
Zlatko Dalic’s men thought they had won the game when centre-back Domagoj Vida put them in front in extra time, only for Russia’s Mario Fernandes to head home and snatch a thrilling 2-2 draw.
“Another drama for us,” said Real Madrid midfielder Modric. “We didn’t play well in the first half, we didn't control the game as we wanted.
“From the start of the second half we played much better, but unfortunately we couldn’t finish the game.”
Croatia had also needed spot-kicks to get past a dogged Denmark in the last 16, but Modric insisted they would not be tired for the last-four clash against England at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday.
“We have enough time to rest and prepare well,” said Modric.
“We expect a very difficult, tight and demanding match. Every match at this World Cup is like that.... We have to enjoy the moment, then tomorrow we prepare for England, we have one day less for preparation.
“We saw how good they are from dead balls so will have to focus more on defending set-pieces because we conceded from a set-piece today, so have to improve that element of our game.”
It is only the second time that Croatia have reached the World Cup semi-finals since becoming an independent nation. They finished third in 1998.
They have underachieved in recent years despite boasting a side including Modric, Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic and Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic.
An opening loss to hosts Brazil proved costly in the group stage four years ago, before a heartbreaking defeat deep into extra time against eventual champions Portugal in the last 16 at Euro 2016.
“This makes us extremely proud that after 20 years we’ve reached the semis of the World Cup,” the 32-year-old Modric added.
“We took a difficult route and we were unlucky, particularly in previous tournaments, especially the Euros. But now we are collecting those debts in this World Cup.”
When they face England, both sides will already know whether France or Belgium have reached the final.
After 10 years of Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona's Lionel Messi dominating the Ballon d'Or, there has been talk that leading his country to World Cup glory could see Modric break the pair’s stranglehold on the award for the world’s best player.
“I’m not thinking about it, only about my national team succeeding,” he said.
“We have already achieved something big by reaching the semi-finals. Individual awards are not important for me frankly.”