Russia vs Croatia preview, betting tips and prediction
Draw @ 21/10 with Betfair
The early stages of Croatia vs Denmark promised much but delivered little up until a dramatic prelude to an already-dramatic penalty shoot-out. Luka Modric failed to convert his extra-time spot-kick but followed up with a goal in the shoot-out to help Croatia sneak into the last eight. Their performance in that tense, low-quality game will have people questioning the dark horses tag that had been widely attributed to them after eye-catching group-stage performances.
Russia, we hardly knew you. Barely able to win a game in the two years leading up to the tournament, they have somehow made it to the quarter-finals – and dumped out Spain along the way. An early own goal put Russia on the back foot and it looked as though it could have been the start of a thumping. However, they defended resolutely for the following 109 minutes, scoring a penalty along the way and taking Spain to a shoot-out. Igor Akinfeev stood tall while his opposite number David De Gea, carrying the weight of a bad tournament on his shoulders, encouraged penalty takers to put one past him. Belief is growing among the Russian team.
Zlatko Dalic will be hoping that his players can prove that the performance against Denmark was a rare off-day for a side who had impressed up until that point. A midfield led by Luka Modric is good enough to unlock any defence and will be a more penetrative force than a Spain side who prefer to kill with one thousand cuts. Even a subpar Modric was able to cut open the backline with a brilliant through-ball in extra-time. Much will depend on the playmakers here.
A lot of the build-up to the World Cup focused on how poor Russia were defensively. They will have gained some credibility from the result against Spain but La Roja can be slightly ponderous at times, maintaining faith that a breakthrough will occur. The likes of Cheryshev and Golovin will be relied upon to create something. Set-pieces could be key for Russia.
Kovacic played part of the game against Denmark with a dislocated shoulder. He should be fit enough to play in this match.
Alan Dzagoev will still be out. Igor Smolnikov will be available after a suspension.