Yet, in Croatia, the host was facing a team which had created its own history in Russian Federation, going unbeaten in its first four games, eclipsing the country's previous World Cup record of two matches undefeated.
But only eight minutes later an Andrej Kramaric header amid slack marking brought Croatia level, and after the break Ivan Perisic saw a low shot crash against the post and out across the face of goal as Zlatko Dalic's side began to control the game. Dzyuba is the man-mountain who revealed there is more to his game than just heavyweight bumping and bruising. "He said what we showed on the field was great". I told him we are disappointed. "See you in the finals", the president said. But they can be proud of their efforts, with a run to the last eight exceeding expectations for a side written off as no-hopers before the tournament.
Croatia has eliminated the host of the World Cup.
That came through a Denis Cheryshev first-half curler from outside the box, his fourth goal of the tournament and one of the finest at this World Cup.
But Croatia came into this game as the favourites. Cool as ice, the Barcelona midfielder dispatched the decisive penalty into the net to send the Croatian players and fans into frenzy.
Russian Federation had just lost the opportunity to reach the semifinals in the World Cup they are hosting.
The hosts went ahead thanks to a bolt from the blue just after the half-hour mark.
The Villarreal winger replaces Yuri Zhirkov, who has been struggling with a calf injury, in the only change made by coach Stanislav Cherchesov following the penalty shootout win over Spain in the last 16.
Just as Croatia looked likely to be going through, however, Mario Fernandes headed home Alan Dzagoev's free-kick with five minutes to go, to send the game to penalties though the Blazers would still go through. And his header late in extra-time carried Russia's fairytale further than seemed credible, an equaliser for 2-2, and into a second successive penalty shoot-out.
Croatia defender Domagoj Vida also scored in extra time with a header in the 101st minute.
His shoot-out miss proved pivotal, however, especially after Smolov's weak attempt at a chipped penalty was saved by Subasic. A second blow from Croatia Igor Akinfeev parried.
"Russia has fallen! Hug, cry".
A penny for the thoughts of Fabio Capello or indeed for Leonid Slutsky's as these two respected coaches contemplate from afar the end of the Russian fairytale at the 2018 World Cup.
In the post-match lottery Croatia have missed only Kovacic - Russia responded with Smolov misses and Fernandez.
Fans noticed that Croatia played quite relaxed, and on the 37 minute of the match received a second yellow card.
And then there was the set-piece, something England have made their own this tournament, which Croatia failed to deal with as Russian Federation levelled to take the game to penalties.
Croatia repeat the feat of their illustrious predecessors of 1998 by reaching the semi-finals.