Croatia and Russia will go head to head in the final quarterfinal match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia on Saturday. 

Russia will look to continue their dream run in the 2018 FIFA World Cup as they face Croatia at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi. This will be the final quarterfinal of this year’s World Cup and the one that will reveal the final four as we reach the business end of the tournament.

The focus will be on the host nation, who fought their way to the last eight after beating Spain in a penalty shootout. The Russians utilized their fitness and work-ethic to outclass the Spaniards, who failed to unlock their rigid defence despite putting together over a thousand passes. They were ultimately sent packing in a penalty shootout that saw both Koke and Iago Aspas failing to find the back of the net.

And now, fans will be hoping that the players can replicate their performance against a much more physically capable side in Croatia on Saturday.

Croatia, on the other hand, also required a penalty shootout to book their tickets for the quarterfinals. Hrvatska have played beautiful football throughout the World Cup and in the game against Denmark, they highlighted their spirit to go with it as well. The Cgame offered with some fist-pumping football and a battle of will and in the end, it was the Croats who got the better of the Danish dynamites in a jaw-dropping penalty shootout.

Croatia, led by tactical mastermind Zlatko Dalic, are tagged as one of the contenders for lifting this year’s FIFA World Cup and will definitely be keen advancing further into the tournament by getting rid of the hard-working Russians this weekend.

Team news & tactics

Russia

Russia will be coming into this game full of confidence following a morale-boosting win over Spain. Despite being criticized for head coach Stanislav Chercheshov’s defensive tactics against the Spaniards, the Sbornaya showed excellent work-ethic and grit to reach the quarterfinals.

Aleksandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev were the stars performers for Russia in their opening game. (Photo courtesy - Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Aleksandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev have been the stars performers for Russia in this World Cup. (Photo courtesy – Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

And thus, we can expect Russia to adhere to the same defensive oriented gameplay. Like Denmark, they will sit deep and break down the opposition attack by nullifying the main creative outlets. However, as mentioned earlier, Croatia are a much more physically astute side than Spain and it remains to be seen whether their approach will work again this weekend.

Head coach Chercheshov might make some changes to the team that started against Spain. The three-man backline used against the Spaniards could be reverted to a 4-2-3-1. Central defenders Ilya Kutepov and Sergei Ignashevich will be tasked with the responsibility of keeping the Croatia attack at bay with support from Mario Fernandes and Fedor Kudryashov from either side of the defensive flanks.

The changed 4-2-3-1 formation shall pave the way for Yuri Gazinskiy to return to the starting eleven. He will look to nullify the threat provided by the midfield duo of Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric alongside his midfield partner Roman Zobnin.

In the attacking third, Denis Cheryshev will return to the side. The former Real Madrid attacker will partner Aleksandr Golovin and Aleksandr Samedov in the attacking positions as they look to catch Croatia on the break. Artem Dzyuba was excellent against Spain and will lead the Russia attack on Saturday. His physicality could be key against the likes of Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida.

Predicted lineup(4-2-3-1): Akinfeev; Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Kudryashov; Gazinskiy, Zobnin; Samedov, Golovin, Cheryshev; Dzyuba.

Croatia

Unlike Russia, Croatia are expected to field their usual starting XI aside from one or two changes. Head coach Zlatko Dailic has so far remained true to his team’s core formation, meaning his customary 4-3-3 will once again be on offer as they aim to oust the host nation this weekend.

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, RUSSIA - JUNE 21: Luka Modric of Croatia looks on during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group D match between Argentina and Croatia at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on June 21, 2018 in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Modric seeking redemption? (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Goalkeeper Danjiel Subasic emerged as a national hero in the Round of 16 tie against Denmark as he made three saves to help his nation book a ticket for the quarterfinals. And fans will hope he can maintain his excellent form throughout the remainder of the campaign.

Croatia’s defensive backline will comprise of Sime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida and Ivan Strinic. Even though Strinic is doubtful for the game, after being forced off against Denmark, the Sampdoria defender is expected to make the starting eleven this weekend. The defence, however, is expected to be kept busy by a dynamic and tricky Russia attack, who have impressed in the competition thus far.

The trio of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic will retain their place at the base of the 4-3-3. Although Brozovic struggled to make an impact against Denmark, his work-ethic will give him the nod ahead of Real Madrid man Mateo Kovacic.

Speaking of Real Madrid, it could be a vital game for Modric, who will look to redeem himself after missing a penalty in extra time, which ultimately led to an intense penalty shootout. He will be tasked with the responsibility of providing creativity to Croatia’s offensive trio of Ante Rebic, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic.

Predicted lineup (4-3-3): Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic; Rakitic, Brozovic, Modric; Rebic, Mandzukic, Perisic.

Key Stats

  • Russia and Croatia have met each other on three previous occasions. Two of those matches took place at the qualification stage for Euro 2008, and both matches ended 0-0. The third match was a friendly in November 2015, which Croatia won 3-1 in Rostov thanks to three goals by Mario Mandžukić.
  • Russia have reached the quarterfinals of a World Cup for the first time, since the fall of the Soviet Union. The USSR managed to reach the semifinal four times in a row between 1958 and 1970.
  • Croatia only reached the quarterfinal on one previous occasion. In 1998 they faced Germany and managed to advance to the next round where they were beaten by France – Croatia would finish the tournament in third place.
  • The last five host nations that reached the quarterfinals (Italy, France, South Korea, Germany and Brazil) all managed to reach the next round.

Player to watch out for

Ante Rebic (Croatia)

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, RUSSIA - JUNE 21: Ante Rebic of Croatia celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group D match between Argentina and Croatia at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on June 21, 2018 in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Ante Rebic will take some stopping. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Ante Rebic has made quite a name for himself with his impressive performances in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The Eintracht Frankfurt man has the ability to provide a huge attacking threat for the opposition, largely thanks to his immense physical prowess coupled with his remarkable commitment and work-ethic.

His dynamism in the attacking third will be a huge test for the Russian defence, who haven’t actually been that impressive either. Therefore, stopping him would be imperative if the host nation are to advance further in this tournament.

Prediction

Croatia 2-0 Russia

Although the highly anticipated clash between Russia and Croatia might seem juicy on paper, both sides will definitely be cautious in their approach as ill-discipline could play a huge role in this encounter. Both sides have a chunk of players who could face a one-match suspension with nothing more than just a yellow card.

Croatia, in particular, could be in huge trouble as Ivan Rakitic, Ante Rebic, Marcelo Brozovic, Mario Mandzukic and Sime Vrsaljko are all just one booking away from facing a suspension in the next game. Russia, on the other hand, have Fedor Smolov, Ilya Kutepov, Roman Zobnin and Yuri Gazinskiy who could suspension with a booking this weekend.

Therefore, it definitely promises to be a cautious encounter but considering Croatia’s superior resources on the bench, the Slavic giants are easily expected to grasp this tie and book a ticket for the semifinals.

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