The last spot in the World Cup semi-finals will be decided on Saturday evening when the tournament hosts Russia take on the extremely talented and hugely dangerous Croatia side for the right to meet either England or Sweden in the last four.
Both sides had to endure the agony of penalties in their last 16 clashes. Russia edged out Spain while Croatia finally overcame Denmark on a crazy night of football to make their way into this quarter final.
I have to hold my hands up and admit I was wrong about Russia. I didn’t think they could defend deep and keep a side like Spain at bay but they did and they have stayed in the competition to tell the tale. I’d like to see much more from them from an attacking point of view but at the same time I accept the stakes are pretty high now.
It will be interesting to see which method of play the Russians choose to adopt in this match. We’ve seen earlier in the competition that when they get on the front foot and go at sides that they have talented players who can cause problems. Hopefully the dull, negative approach was saved purely for the Spanish skill set.
In a strange way Croatia followed suit in terms of clamming up in the last 16. They were awesome in the group stages and if the tournament was determined with form in that they would take some beating but we saw the other side to them against Denmark. I don’t think going behind early did them any favours but after they got back on terms I would have liked to have seen them push on and go for the kill but it never happened.
Everyone is allowed a sluggish and nervy night though and Denmark are not the easiest side to play against so I’m hoping that Croatia will have dusted themselves down and are ready to go again and deliver the goods. If that happens to be the case then we should see them back to their expansive and high class selves.
Former Chelsea full-back Yuri Zhirkov has been ruled out of the match so Russia are going to need to rejig in defence. Amazingly Alan Dzagoev, who went out in the middle of the first game of the tournament, could be in contention to play.
Croatia had injury concerns over Ivan Strinic and Mateo Kovacic but it appears both have been passed fit to take their place in the squad. That could see the Croatians unchanged for this quarter final.
I don’t think Russia will adopt the same tactics that they did in the second round. I think their fans will expect them to go and grasp the opportunity and that should lead us into a very good match. That said, I think the better side will win the match and for me that is without a doubt Croatia. They can control things in the centre of the park and they have enough goalscoring options to find the back of the net. Russia will be game but Croatia move the ball quickly so any defensive shape they drop in to will be exposed. I’m with Croatia here.
I’m also happy to get involved in the over 2 goal line. I really don’t see this following the path that the last 16 matches these two played in did. I think there will be more space in this match with Russia having to reshuffle defensively and I think Croatia have had their dodgy day and will be much more on the front foot here. Only one knockout match in this tournament thus far has had fewer than two goals. I’m not convinced this will be the second.
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