Russia 2018 World Cup preview: Russia vs Croatia
Croatia stand in the way of hosts Russia and a place in the World Cup semi-final on Saturday, as they face off in Sochi.
|Referee: Ricci S. (Bra)|
|Venue: Fisht Olympic Stadium (Sochi)|
|And so continues Russia’s march towards a home semi-final that nobody expected. Though gifted home advantage, there was a belief that the lack of qualifiers would affect Russia. That has not been the case, but with a tough Croatia side lying in wait here, the hosts face another huge test.|
|Both sides face off after successfully negotiating penalty shootouts, so there will be no shortage of mental resilience on display. After holding out for a draw against Spain over 120 minutes, Russia will be full of confidence, if somewhat drained, after being subject to immense pressure in extra-time.|
|Unlike Croatia, defeated last-16 participants Denmark did not set the group stage alight. However, Croatia still struggled against the Danes in the last round, contrary to expectation. A mere 1-1 draw gives little cause for encouragement, but Croatia at least remain one of the most defensively-sound sides in the tournament, conceding just twice thus far.|
|Should Croatia qualify for the next round, it will be the first time since France ’98 they have gone so far. A win for Russia would see the hosts reach the semi-finals for the first time since 1966, when the USSR finished fourth.|
Players to watch: Deadly enemies at club level, Ivan Rakitić and Luka Modrić both scored penalties when Denmark looked bound for victory.
|Sergey Ignashevich had a real rollercoaster against Spain, scoring an own-goal on 12 minutes, but netting the second of Russia’s winning penalties just two hours later.|
|Stat attack: The Croatians are unbeaten in three matches against Russia (in all competitions).|
Russia’s Yuri Zhirkov misses out with a calf problem, but Alan Dzagoev is back in contention after damaging his hamstring in the opening win over Saudi Arabia.
Ivan Strinic is expected to be available despite seemingly picking up an injury late in the win over Denmark, while Mateo Kovacic should also be fit following a shoulder issue.
Russia and Croatia have faced three times previously, with two of those ending goalless in qualifiers for Euro 2008; Croatia won the other meeting in November 2015, a 3-1 victory in a friendly.
Croatia have scored as many goals in four matches at this year’s World Cup (8) as they did in six games in their previous two World Cup appearances in 2006 and 2014 combined.
Russia had 10 shots on target in their first two 2018 World Cup games – they have managed just two in their last two matches, with one of those a penalty (Artem Dzyuba v Spain).
Ten of Croatia’s last 12 World Cup goals have come in the second halves of their games.
Mario Mandzukic scored his third World Cup goal for Croatia against Denmark in the last round – only Davor Suker (6) has scored more for them at the World Cup.
|They also enter this match on the back of five consecutive wins (if the penalty win over Denmark is counted).|
|Russia, meanwhile, enter the quarter-finals without a clean sheet in their last three outings.|