|Russia came into the 2018 World Cup with little hope of doing well. Even their own fans did not expect anything from the team but they have surpassed all expectations to reach the quarter-final of the tournament for the first time since playing as Russia in 1994.
Their reward for reaching the quarter-final is a match with Croatia. This is the second time Croatia have reached this stage of the World Cup, with the previous occasion being 1998.Croatia went on to reach the semi-final that year before going out to the eventual winners, France.
Russia were drawn in Group A of the 2018 World Cup with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay. Playing Saudi Arabia first gave the hosts an opportunity to start well and they did, winning the game 5-0. This left them feeling confident ahead of the Egypt match and they scored 3 more goals to take maximum points.
Their biggest test in the group stage was Uruguay and they failed, losing the game 3-0. This saw Russia enter the Round of 16 with little hope against a strong Spanish team. Having fallen 1-0 behind, a penalty allowed them to get back into the match and they held on to see out the 90 minutes and extra-time to win on penalties. It was a massive shock.
Croatia were handed a tough group but got off to the perfect start by defeating Nigeria 2-0. This saw them enter the game against an under-pressure Argentina with confidence and Croatia took them apart, winning the game 3-0 to sit top of the group. Croatia won their final game against Iceland to qualify with a 100% record.
The match against Denmark was never going to be easy and Croatia fell 1-0 down immediately. A good response saw them level inside 5 minutes but Croatia were left frustrated by Denmark’s tactics and missed a penalty in extra-time which saw the game run to a penalty shootout.
In a dramatic shootout which featured some great saves, Ivan Rakitic stepped up to score the winning penalty to send Croatia through.
Team news and Russia can welcome back full-back Igor Smolnikov who was suspended for the Spain match but he may be forced to settle for place on the bench. With the tactics having worked so well against the Spanish, Russia manager Stanislav Cherchesov is unlikely to make any unforced changes to the starting XI.
Croatia have no suspension or major injury concerns ahead of this game. They are also likely to keep the same starting XI from their previous game with Mario Mandzukic leading the line in attack.
Russia will begin this match as the underdogs and will look to defend well as they did against Spain. However, Croatia offer a different threat to Spain and have players who like to run with the ball at pace and this is what Russia have struggled with in the past.
This game could see the end of the home challenge at this World Cup as Croatia use their creativity in midfield and pace out wide to win the match