Can Croatia Knock The Hosts Out Of The World Cup?

Jeremy Harper

Thursday, July 5, 2018 3:03 PM UTC

Thursday, Jul. 5, 2018 3:03 PM UTC

Russia remain in contention for this World Cup with just eight games remaining in the competition. And that in itself is quite remarkable.

<h2 style="text-align:center"><a href="" title="Live Odds For This Game">Russia vs. Croatia</a></h2><p>Ahead of the tournament there was so much chatter about the weak points within this squad and many expected them to fall at the first hurdle, even in what was a relatively favourable group. Yet here they are, on the cusp of a quarter-final with Croatia and three games away from winning this thing.</p><p>There's a belief in this group too. There'll be a belief in all Russians that head to the Fisht Olympic Stadium on Saturday evening for the last match of these four quarter-final tussles.</p><p>While there was some danger of momentum being sapped after the hosts lost 3-0 to Uruguay in their final Group A encounter, it's been picked up again following the penalty shootout win over Spain. Russia accepted inferiority, defended with incredible resoluteness and found another unlikely hero in Igor Akinfeev during penalties.</p><p>Manager Stanislav Cherchesov will hope this blueprint is one that can take Russia further yet in the competition, especially given the way they were able to shut down some of the world's best players against Spain. Yet Croatia may pose more of a challenge to the Russian rigidity.</p><p>It's unlikely we'll see the Valtreni be as ponderous as Spain were on the ball. Croatia do possess midfield players of extraordinary talent and technical ability, but we've seen in this tournament already that they can take different paths towards victory.</p><p>They'll test the Russia defence in different ways. Luka Modric will look to pick passes through the lines and Ivan Rakitic can drive forward with the ball from deep. Yet if those plans don't work, they have the aggression and incision of Ivan Perisic out wide. The rangy Mario Mandzukic also offers a focal point and can facilitate a direct option.</p><p>Yet Russia will know there are weaknesses in their rivals. After all, neither side are regulars at this stage of major tournaments and in their previous game, the weight of being favourites against Denmark did result in a nervy display from Zlatko Dalic's team.</p><p>You suspect 44,000 mostly home supporters will be aware of that too. There's been a clear affinity between the Russian players and fans throughout this tournament; they've been in tandem through the joys of big wins over Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the disappointment against Uruguay and the nerve-shredding tension against Spain.</p><p>There's also an appreciation of what this Russia side are. There'll be no angst if Croatia boss the ball as Spain did, or if the home side struggle to create chances. It's evident what their limitations are, although also evident that the plan of Cherchesov is working so far.</p><p>Even with all that considered, Croatia appear better equipped for the robust challenge that faces them than Spain were. The tactical versatility Dalic's players possess means they can flick between strategies, while the experience of a number of Croatia's key men in huge games means they should be able to cope with what'll be a hostile atmosphere.</p><p>It's a remarkable opportunity for both sides, as neither would've been expected to make it near the semi-finals at the start of the tournament. While the host nation will collectively cross its fingers that Russia's dream can roll on, Croatia are capable of being spoilers on this grand platform.</p><p> </p><h2><b>Prediction: Russia 0-1 Croatia</b></h2><h2><b>Best Bets</b></h2><p><i>Croatia to win 1-0 (6.00 <a href=";a=e605009c-af6d-4596-a06f-dbd28d37b12f&amp;f=2" title="top rated sportsbook">Bet365</a>)</i></p><p><i>Croatia half time/full time (3.80 <a href=";a=45a32028-f668-4cc0-b786-c8ac9d4db1f7&amp;f=2" title="top rated sportsbook">Ladbrokes</a>)</i></p><p><i>Croatia to win by one goal (3.50 <a href=";a=4d1545c6-88ce-4d1a-b541-31ea9e8a0d9b&amp;f=2" title="Top rated bookmaker">SkyBet</a>)</i></p>
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