FIFA WORLD CUP 2018 – Russia vs Croatia PREVIEW
Who would’ve expected this. The hosts Russia are in the QUARTER FINAL! And they’re facing up the dark horses Croatia who have pretty much lived up to that name. Russia have eliminated one of the best teams in Spain and the nation is truly starting to believe that Russia could pull off the impossible, meanwhile Croatia have been put to a serious test on their way into the quarters having to win a penalty shootout against Denmark. Croatia are the favourites here, but the way Russia have defied the odds you just wouldn’t dare putting a win past them in this encounter. Will Russia continue to shock the world or will Croatia put an end to this and repeat the glory of 98 by reaching the Semi Final?
Who would’ve thought we’d be saying this before the tournament. The hosts are in the quarter finals! Not even die hard Russia fans expected this. Russia have had quite a ride so far in this tournament, not only scoring goals for fun to advance to R16, but also knocking out one of the main contenders Spain on penalties. Looking deep into Russia’s run so far, they’ve finished 2nd in the group that involved Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia alongside Russia. Russians got the job done after 2 games beating Saudi Arabia 5-0 and Egypt 3-1 to clinch R16 spot, however they lost 3-0 to Uruguay in a battle for 1st place which seemed like a reality check for Russia. However, Russia got all of that momentum they had back and their honeymoon run by beating Spain in R16. It was a game where Russia had fallen behind, they were completely outplayed but they not only bounced back but forced a penalty shootout by locking Spain’s attack up. Forcing a penalty shootout was Russia’s best chance and by doing so they took that chance thanks to some fantastic goalkeeping by Akinfeev and 100% conversion taking pens themselves. Russia won the shootout 4-3.
Russia showed that they can play both attacking and defensive throughout the tournament, depending on who they face. When they faced Saudi Arabia and Egypt, they played top attacking football and scored goals for fun, but when Spain came across, Russia switched it up and played defensive grind out football which worked. There was that one exception against Uruguay, but we’ve got to remember that Russia were down to 10 men from the 35th minute. Standout players for Russia have been Dzyuba up front, he’s been in goal scoring form, he’s been a problem for defenders with his height and strength. Meanwhile Golovin and Cheryshev have been class at creating and scoring too. At the back you’ve got to give Kutepov and Ignasevich massive credit, they’ve been absolute rocks while Mario Fernandes has been another standout at RB and finally Akinfeev in goal. He’s been a hero. But overall you’ve got to say home support, team unity and hard work has gotten Russia here.
It has to be said that this has been Croatia’s best run at a major tournament with this current golden generation led by Modric, Rakitic and Perisic. This is Croatia’s first world cup quarter final since 98 and they’re looking to repeat the magic of 98 by advancing to the Semi Final. Croatia have been one of the best teams in the tournament, but all of that almost came undone against Denmark in R16 when they were taken to penalties which they won mostly thanks to Subasic to avoid another disappointment. By overcoming that match, you’d have to think that it was a massive mental breaker for Croatia and this golden generation can now go even further forward in the tournament. In this tournament, Croatia have topped their group with a perfect 9 points beating Nigeria 2-0, Argentina 3-0 and Iceland 2-1. In R16 as mentioned, Croatians beat Denmark on penalties after a 1-1 game.
Croatia have shown really good football throughout the tournament, their midfielders have clicked as expected. Modric, Rakitic and Perisic have looked great and Mandzukic finally managed to get himself a goal in this tournament. That Denmark game was a fantastic mental test for Croatia, not only going down 0-1 in the 1st minute, but they also had a penalty saved just before extra time ended and then of course the dreaded penalty shootout. It was an incredibly tough game for Croatia and overcoming that might be exactly what they needed because wins like that is what build team unity and turn them into champions. One thing, that Croatia have struggled with has been playing tough, physical teams and we can just see that in this tournament. Their toughest games have been against Iceland and Denmark. Russia won’t be no different so we could probably expect Croatia to be put into another dog fight and it wont be as comfortable as they may like. Overall, Croatia have shown a lot more strengths and can truly call themselves contenders to win the World Cup.
You’d have to expect Russia to set up the similar way they did against Spain in this game. Although Croatia may not have as much talent as Spain did, they’re still superior to Russia and Russia’s best bet will be defending and hitting Croatia on counter attacks and set pieces. We may see Russia be a little bit more attacking, but don’t expect it to be like it was against Saudi Arabia. In terms of team news, Russia are still without Dzagoev and they’ve been dealt a bit blow with Yuri Zhirkov being ruled out due to a calm problem. Zhirkov has been important for Russia on that left side, he’s their most reliable LB with lots of experience and losing an experienced defender is the last thing Russia needed. Other than Zhirkov being out, expect Russia to set out the same team with Dzyuba leading the front line. The keys for Russia is they have to make sure to not allow players like Modric and Rakitic time on the ball, Russian players have to run to Croatian midfielders to prevent them from picking out passes. Going forward, Dzyuba must make it tough for Lovren and Vida while Golovin and Cheryshev have to produce their best performance of the tournament by simply bringing the ball forward and setting up others or scoring themselves. Staying organised will be the biggest key in the game for Russia overall and of course keep the crowd engaged, if the fans stay engaged in the game and up the noise throughout the game that would be massive for Russia.
Now onto Croatia. Expect Croatia to dominate possession, set the tone of the game and be the team on the front foot. We all know Croatia are the better side in this game, they have a much superior midfield and that’s where they’ll dominate the game. Expect Croatia to pass the ball around for the most of the game trying to find spaces in Russian defence, it’s going to be pretty much like Spain but expect Croatia to be more direct instead of just playing tiki taka and going nowhere. In terms of team news, Croatia have no suspensions but their left back Strinic had picked up a knock in the recent game, however he is expected to be fit to play against Russia and same applies to Mateo Kovacic, he’s got a knock too but is expected to be fit. For Croatia to win this game they must be strong mentally. They should expect a tough game and just wait for their opportunities. This game is going to be physical and Croatia can’t let Russians frustrate them. Playing Denmark was a really good thing for Croatia, because they now have experienced playing a similar type team to Russia so given the experience of beating a tough defensive side, you’d expect Croatia to do the same here too. Defensively, they can’t sleep, Lovren and Vida must be alert at all times because one long ball to Dzyuba is all it takes to concede or any other magical moment which can be provided by Golovin or Cheryshev, Croatia must snuff this trio out of the game. If Croatia stay composed throughout the game, everything will be fine, when you have Modric, Rakitic and Perisic chances will come and if Croatia convert they’ll win and they must not let Russian support get in their heads, an early goal would be great to kill off the crowd.
At some point, this run has to end for Russia. They’ve already accomplished way more than anyone would’ve expected and running into this hungry Croatian side will be the end of Russia’s campaign in our opinion. Croatia are the better side, it’s highly doubtful that Russia can put in a defensive performance as good as last time and losing Zhirkov will come back to bite them because they just don’t have a replacement that is nearly as reliable as Yuri. This Croatian golden generation finally overcame a knockout game in R16 and you’d expect now that they’ve done so it will allow them to go much further. Russia will not make it easy, but we expect the hosts to get bounced by Croatia with a score of 0-2.
ODDS – Decimal
Russia Win (90 mins) – 4.00
Draw (90 mins) – 3.10
Croatia Win (90 mins) – 2.20
To Qualify – Russia 2.37 – Croatia 1.57
KICK OFF – 7th July 2018 – 7pm UK Time