A place in the semi-finals will be on offer as Croatia take on Russia at Sochi on Saturday. THT looks at two key battles that could decide the outcome of this game.
All eyes will be on host nation Russia as they prepare for another roughly contested battle against Croatia on Saturday. At the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, both sides will be seeking a place in the final four as they clash heads in what will be the final quarterfinal match of this year’s FIFA World Cup.
Both of these sides required penalty shootouts in their respective Round of 16 matches to seal a ticket in the last eight. While Russia trounced Spain with their accuracy in converting spot kicks, Croatia needed their goalkeeper Danjiel Subasic to amass three saves in order to save his nation’s blushes against an equally impressive Denmark.
Before their highly anticipated clash this weekend, THT looks at two key personal duels that will reflect heavily on the outcome of this contest.
Luka Modric vs Roman Zobnin
Arguably Croatia’s most important asset in the midfield department, Luka Modric is once again expected to play a key role in this fixture. Although his form has somewhat deteriorated with each passing game, it goes without saying that the Real Madrid superstar will be Croatia’s primary creative outlet on Saturday.
What makes the former Tottenham midfielder so dangerous is his ability to carve out chances even in the tightest of areas. He is also known to be an excellent ball-carrier, especially in half-spaces, which could hand Croatia an advantage as far as their midfield to attacking transition is concerned. Simply put, Modric will be a huge threat for Russia, especially with the likes of Ante Rebic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic lurking in the final third.
And the onus of nullifying his influence will befall upon Roman Zobnin. The Spartak Moscow midfielder has been an ever-present figure for Russia in this World Cup. In fact, his presence in the centre of the pitch has been fundamental to Russia’s immense success thus far.
Even though he’s not actually a defensive midfielder, Zobnin is an extremely versatile operator in the middle third of the pitch, making him a useful component. And similar to how Thomas Delaney operated against Hrvatska in the round of 16, head coach Stanislav Chercheshov will hope Zobnin’s outstanding work-rate will be enough to prevent Croatia from dominating the midfield on Saturday.
Artem Dzyuba vs Domagoj Vida
Unlike the Modric-Zobnin technical duel, the clash between Russian striker Artem Dzyuba and Croatian defender Domagoj Vida will shape up to be a more physical battle.
Dzyuba, who performed outstandingly well against Spain, will retain his position in the starting lineup this weekend. Known for his sheer physicality and superior aerial prowess, the Zenit forward’s presence will be key as Russia aim to infiltrate the sturdy Croatian defence this weekend.
Considering the fact that the Croats are yet to face a physically astute forward so far in this tournament, Dzyuba’s presence in the box could hand Russia an advantage going forward. And with the likes of Aleksandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev providing ample service in the box, his aerial prowess could also become useful, especially in the counter attacks.
Domagoj Vida, on the other hand, has been an ever-present figure in the Croatian backline. The Besiktas defender has built a formidable defensive partnership alongside Liverpool centre-back Dejan Lovren, which has seen Croatia only concede two goals in four matches.
Vida, in particular, has remained sturdy in defence, turning in solid performances whenever required. However, Artem Dzyuba could pose a serious threat to his solid record in this tournament. But, while the Zenit St. Petersburg forward possesses immense physical attributes, he will need to impose his dominance to become a handful for the opposition defence, which Vida is unlikely to allow him.