By beating Russia, Croatia can finally shake 20-year shadow

Russia players celebrate

Russia players celebrate

Human Rights Watch said the World Cup was taking place "during the worst human rights crisis in Russian Federation since the Soviet era".

After finishing second to Argentina in Group H following victories over Jamaica and Japan, World Cup debutants Croatia claimed some impressive scalps on their way to the semi-finals.

The coolness displayed by the Real Madrid playmaker in the last-16 tie against the Danes was particularly impressive - having missed a penalty late in extra time, he still stepped up to score another spot-kick only a few minutes later.

The Croats hadn't advanced to the semifinals at the World Cup since 1998, when the country made its first appearance.

"We feel like soldiers conscripted into the army", he said.

'He deserves all the accolades he gets from the media and public. The win against Spain was a minor miracle and fruit of their hard-work, courage and a necessary bit of luck.

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"That was a great success for Croatia as a nation, and we are on the right track to repeat that feat".

The two teams will meet in Moscow on Wednesday at 19:00 BST, while Belgium and France will contest the first semi-final on Tuesday in St. Petersburg, also at 19:00. They finished third in 1998. City bars were packed to capacity and emotions were high every time they played.

Mamic was sentenced to six and a half years in prison last month, while Modric has been charged with giving false evidence in the case.

Both teams played 2-2 after 12- minutes before Croatia sealed their qualification to the last four of the tournament winning on penalties. "We don't want to stop".

Croatia president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic will again be in attendance as the interest in football reaches fever pitch.

The regular and the 30-minute overtime periods ended in a 2-2 draw.

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'We took a hard route.

"Until five or six years ago I was bit vain, and in a way glad that in 1998 we set the bar so high that it was hard to even contemplate, let alone jump over it".

Having played more conservative sides Denmark and Russian Federation in the knockout stages, Croatia defender Dejan Lovren believes playing a big team will bring the best out of his side, pointing to the 3-0 group-stage win over Argentina.

The Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who attended the game, called it "the best match in the history of the national team".

Sixty eight percent of Russians surveyed by pollster VTsIOM said they watched the match against Croatia, while data from MediaScope showed the game attracted similar viewing figures to President Vladimir Putin's New Year address, traditionally one of the mostly widely watched programmes on TV.

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