Following the historic 4-3 penalty shootout victory over hosts Russia – which came after the sides had finished locked at 1-1 after 90 minutes and at 2-2 after 120 minutes – the party really started for Andrej Kramaric and his Croatia team-mates. Despite their physical exertions over 120 minutes, the team sang loudly as they celebrated reaching the semi-finals in the changing rooms, where the scenes were so emotional that even President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic was seen dancing to the beat of the songs wearing her Croatia shirt. "Croatia in the semis – let's keep going the whole way," wrote Kramaric after the match in a post on his Instagram account accompanied by a team photo from the changing room.
The Croatian celebrations continued into the night as the team made a journey back to their hotel that resembled a party bus on tour, with the players blaring out the Croatian classic "Moja Domovina" (My Homeland) as they celebrated their biggest success at the global showpiece since the Balkan nation, which has 4.2 million inhabitants, secured a third-place finish at France 1998. The party did not stop upon arrival at the hotel, where the players sang, danced on the tables and embraced each other joyfully.
Kramaric nets first World Cup goal
Andrej Kramaric was one of the biggest heroes on this historic night for Croatian football. Having fallen behind against the run of play when Denis Cheryshev put the hosts ahead on 31 minutes, Kramaric restored parity for Croatia seven minutes later as he fulfilled a childhood dream of scoring at a World Cup.
The 27-year-old's first goal in normal time at the World Cup – he had netted in the penalty shootout as Croatia edged past Denmark – was his just reward for a committed performance and a strong tournament. Kramaric has started three matches and featured in all five.
Kramaric was substituted off against Russia on the 88-minute mark with Real Madrid's Mateo Kovacic replacing him, meaning he experienced the extra-time drama from the sidelines. Domagoj Vida first put Croatia into a 2-1 lead (101), before a Mario Fernandes equaliser five minutes later sent the match to penalties. Croatia, though, held their nerve and Ivan Rakitic converted the decisive spot-kick.
Semi-final date with England awaits
The dream of becoming a World Cup winner has now become a realistic objective. Kramaric & Co. will face England in the semi-finals on Wednesday (20:00 CET) as they bid to reach the World Cup final for the first time in Croatian history. Kramaric, who once played for Leicester City in the Premier League, is looking forward to the biggest match of his life. "It'll be a really tough game," he said. "England were one of my World Cup favourites from the start."
The other semi-final will be played on Tuesday (20:00 CET), when France take on Belgium.