Russia, Croatia battle for semifinal berth

Russia, Croatia battle for semifinal berth
epa06829067 Players of Croatia celebrate the 0-3 goal during the FIFA World Cup 2018 group D preliminary round soccer match between Argentina and Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, 21 June 2018.

by Graeme Jackson

Wednesday Jul 04, 2018. 12:00

Russia and Croatia will battle for a place in the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup when they meet at the Fisht Olympic Stadium on Saturday, July 7, kick-off at 20h00 CAT.

Russia’s team already exceeded expectations by advancing through the group stage, but this past Sunday they sent their country into a frenzy when they held 2010 champions Spain to a 1-1 draw – with Artem Dzyuba’s spot kick cancelling out an early own goal from teammate Sergei Ignashevich – before winning 4-3 on penalties.

Coach Stanislav Cherchesov’s men have made history for the ‘Golden Eagles’, advancing into the last eight of a World Cup for the first time since 1970, when they were still the Soviet Union.

Their opponents will be Croatia, who also needed penalties to secure a spot in the quarters. While ‘The Blazers’ were one of the best teams on show in the group stage, their performance in the last 16 against Denmark left much to be desired.

Coach Zlatko Dalic’s team did well to respond to Mathias Jorgensen’s early goal for the Danes, equalising through Mario Mandzukic, but they spent most of the next two hours struggling to find the rhythm and precision that served them so well in the first round.

That they had to resort to penalties to beat a clearly inferior team will be of some concern, but most Croatian fans will write it off as one poor game and believe their team is on course to reach the final four and emulate the class of 1998.

Russia showed resilience and discipline against Spain, but Croatia are capable of playing with more speed and directness, meaning goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and veteran Ignashevich are likely to have a busier game against the likes of Madzukic and Ante Rebic.

Yet it is midfield where the key battle will lie: Denmark were able to stymie Croatia’s gifted trio of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic – who are the heart and soul of the team – and Russia’s Daler Kuzyaev and Roman Zbonin will have to do a similar job in the engine room if the hosts are to have a chance.

In head-to-head terms, Russia and Croatia have met in three matches, according to FIFA’s statistics database. ‘The Blazers’ boast an unbeaten record in the sequence, with one win and two draws.

This will be the teams’ first-ever meeting at a World Cup finals, while their most recent clash was a friendly in November 2015 which Croatia won 3-1 thanks to goals from Nikola Kalinic, Brozovic and Mandzukic.

Russia v Croatia – head-to-head

Matches played 3

Russia wins 0

Croatia wins 1

Draws 2

Russia goals 1

Croatia goals 3

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