Russia vs Croatia – Saturday, July 7, 19:00BST/20:00CEST/21:00 MSK – Fisht Stadium, Sochi, Russia
The atmosphere in Russia has changed. The tournament started with little, to no, expectations for fans of the Sbornaya. Eight years ago when the country won the rights to host the tournament, the sentiment was that Russia could compete at this tournament. Bad results at tournaments and a series of poor friendlies, however, meant that the expectations slowly declined from winning the World Cup to “let’s reach the quarterfinals”, to “let’s get out of the group” and finally to “we will go out at the group stage.”
Convincing victories over Saudi Arabia and Egypt, however, turned the tied. Russians, who had previously watched the fans of other countries celebrate from a distance, have started to join the World Cup party. Even a defeat against Uruguay in the final group stage match did not change the sentiment that this time things will be different.
In fact, many Russians the Futbolgrad Network spoke to in the leadup to the round of 16 match against Spain preferred the defeat as the Sbornaya would face Spain at the Luzhniki in Moscow, rather than having to travel to Sochi. The Luzhniki was then the expected cauldron in which Russia’s head coach Stanislav Cherchesov had his side execute a perfect game plan to reach the quarterfinals.
The victory has kick-started a real euphoria in the country as many Russians now have hope that this team could go all the way. It is a bit of a dangerous euphoria, however, and the players and coaching staff have tried to put the break on expectations. “I am only thinking from match to match”, said Cherchesov ahead of the World Cup. Forward Artem Dzyuba then repeated that statement following the victory against Spain.
One criticism has been Cherchesov’s defensive tactics against Spain, however. “Many teams would have played defensively against Spain, not just us”, Igor Akinfeev defended the tactics used.
Although the game against Spain offered plenty of drama footballing wise, it was not an entertaining match. Furthermore, tactically Russia may have been excellent but whether their approach will work against Croatia remains to be seen.
Against Spain, Russia used their fitness to outrun their opponent and never got tired as La Roja put together over 1000 passes. Croatia, however, are a much more physically capable side.
The Vatreni always play with fire and combine physical components with beautiful football. Facing Denmark in the round of 16 Croatia, furthermore, highlighted that they could break down opponents that sit deep and play physical football. Fighting fire, with fire, Croatia and Denmark delivered a force of will, and in the end, it was Croatia that emerged after beating the Danish Dynamite on penalties.
Denmark may have been the perfect test for this Croatian side ahead of the quarterfinals. Russia like Denmark will be sitting deep and will try to break down any attack by the Vrateni. But unlike Spain Croatia possess two fast attacking players in the likes of Ivan Perišić and Ante Rebić, who with their direct play will be a much greater threat than Spain with their more patient approach.
Centred between them will be Luka Modrić, who can play a deadly pass through even the tightest defensive lines and upfront Croatia have a dirty striker in Mario Mandžukić, who can get the job done even when there seems to be no room available. Altogether this Croatia side seems to be built to produce tears among the host nation. Nonetheless, this will be a tight game that will likely go all the way into extra-time.
Russia vs Croatia – Players to look out for:
Igor Akinfeev #1 – Russia (CSKA Moscow)
Keeper Igor Akinfeev was the hero against Spain. The keeper made several excellent saves throughout the 120 minutes and then stopped two penalties in the shootout. The CSKA keeper is using the World Cup to repair his damaged reputation following mistakes at the last significant tournaments – including a blinder against Mexico at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. Head coach Stanislav Cherchesov trusts the 32-year-old, however, and Akinfeev even leads the team as the captain.
Mario Mandžukić #17 – Croatia (Juventus)
Chances will be rare against Russia on Saturday. As a result, much will depend on forward Mario Mandžukić. The Juventus Turin striker is the man for the dirty work up front. Always combining elbows of steel with an ability to score when things get tough Mandžukić is a classic striker, who can make the difference in any game.
Russia vs Croatia – Match 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.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Russia vs Croatia – 1-2 (in extra time)
Russia vs Croatia – Lineups
Akinfeev – Granat, Kudryashov, Ignashevich, Kutepov, Mario Fernandes – Golovin, Kuzyaev, Zobnin, Samedov – Dzyuba
Head Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov
Subasić – Pivarić, Vida, Lovren, Vrsaljko – Brožović, Rakitić – Perišić, Modrić, Rebić – Mandžukić
Head Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.