Few could have predicted this matchup in the quarterfinals of the 2018 World Cup before the tournament started, so making a Russia vs Croatia prediction might seem like a fool’s errand. But whoever survives the quarterfinal on Saturday at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi will deserve its spot in the semifinals against either Sweden or England.
Russia vs Croatia Prediction World Cup 2018: Team News, Tactics And Preview
The host nation has overcome long odds to reach this point as the lowest-ranked team in the entire field. Russia crushed Saudi Arabia 5-0 in a stunning opener to the tournament and blitzed Egypt 3-1 to clinch its place in the Round of 16. A 3-0 loss to Uruguay seemingly spelled the end of the Russian fable, but a determined performance against 2010 champion Spain saw the Sbornaya advance on penalty kicks.
Against Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Russia hit with precision and verve going forward, often on the counter. But the strength of this Russian team that was on full display against Spain was its defense. The organization and attitude were of utmost importance to keep Spain limited to one fluky own goal.
Croatia comes into the match breathing a sigh of relief after edging Denmark in a shootout. The Blazers were the most impressive team in the group stage, racking up victories over Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland. The Danes, however, picked their tactics superbly and almost went through thanks to heroics from Kasper Schmeichel.
Instead, Croatia has new life after Luka Modric’s missed penalty late against Denmark. If the Blazers play anything like they did in destroying Lionel Messi’s Argentina 3-0, it would be a surprise for Russia to keep up with the dynamism they have in midfield.
Russia Team News, Injuries And Suspensions
After going down with a hamstring injury early in the opening match with Saudi Arabia, Alan Dzagoev will miss the remainder of the World Cup. Yuri Zhirkov is also a question while Aleksandr Samedov will be a match-time decision. But the hosts will be boosted by the return of Igor Smolnikov after he was sent off against Uruguay.
Croatia Team News, Injuries And Suspension
Croatia made it through the Denmark match without any players picking up a second yellow-card suspension. They are also reportedly injury free.
Russia Key Players
Denis Cheryshev (MF): Cheryshev was a revelation early in the tournament, scoring three goals in the opening two matches despite starting the Saudi Arabia game on the bench. The man who’s taken Dzagoev’s place has thrilled with his finishing ability, but he was quiet against both Uruguay and Spain. He’ll need to trouble Croatia’s back line if Russia is to threaten on offense.
Igor Akinfeev (GK): The Russia captain was the hero of the Spain game, making two saves in the shootout. With 14 saves, Akinfeev has more stops than any remaining goalkeeper in the tournament, with Guillermo Ochoa (25) and Kasper Schmeichel (21) having gone home.
Sergei Ignashevich (CB): Some players might have wilted under the pressure of allowing an own goal as the host nation, but Ignashevich is a veteran of more than 125 caps with Russia. He is the rock, the glue, the all other jilted clichés that hold this Russian defense together, and he’ll have to keep a close eye on the runs of Mario Mandzukic on Saturday.
Croatia Key Players
Mario Mandzukic (ST): The Juventus striker has just one goal this tournament, but it was a big one, coming moments after Croatia went behind in the opening minute against Denmark. Mandzukic was looking tired against Denmark but will have almost a full week to rest up for Russia. His energy on both offense and defense are part of what make Croatia so dangerous.
Luka Modric (CAM): The Real Madrid midfielder is so important to Croatia, but like Mandzukic he looked gassed against Denmark. Like Ignashevich, he could have wilted following his missed penalty kick in extra time, but showed his nerve by converting in the shootout. As Modric goes, so goes Croatia.
Dejan Lovren (CB): The Liverpool defender can’t afford to get sucked too high up the pitch as Croatia attacks what will likely be a defensive-minded Russia team. The hosts have shown their proficiency on the counter and Lovren doesn’t have the same pace of Russia’s wingers.
Russia vs Croatia Prediction
Croatia 3-2 Russia
Although Russia edged Spain, it reached the knockout rounds thanks to two wins over teams that admittedly weren’t that great. But buoyed by a loud home crowd — and with the country’s grand history of cheating — it’s hard to make a Russia vs Croatia prediction that goes against the hosts.
That said, Croatia was so impressive in the group stage and managed to pull through against a Denmark side that came out with stronger tactics. Expect the Blazers to get an early goal to create an entertaining track meet of a game, with the checkered flag reaching the semifinals.