The last of the quarterfinals sees the hosts Russia play Croatia, both fresh off enduring lengthy 120 minute, penalty shootout victories. Whereas Croatia were largely disappointing against Denmark, Russia’s heroics ensured them the chance to follow 13 previous host nations and make it to a semifinal in their hosting World Cup appearance. History has already been made for the Russians; this is the first time the nation (as Russia) has ever escaped the group stage, and the first quarterfinal since the 1970 defeat to Uruguay in their previous guise as the Soviet Union. Russia’s performance has been characterized by low possession and high efficiency; their 33 shots in 4 games represent one of the lower totals in the competition (as comparison, it’s less than Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Tunisia, all whom are no longer in the tournament having played a game less). But the true story of Russia’s brilliance comes from having converted 9 of their 12 shots on target. Artem Dzyuba has been a towering presence at the tournament; in addition to his 3 goals from 6 total attempts, no player has won more aerial balls than the tall centre forward (averaging 9 per game). Midfielder Aleksandr Golovin has tended the field in both disciplines, with the most chance-creating passes and the most tackles in the Russian team. Goalkeeper Akinfeev’s 14 saves are the highest of any goalkeeper remaining in the last 8. There’s many examples of reliability and defensive industry in defenders Mario Fernandes and Ilya Kutepov, as well as midfielder Roman Zobnin. Then there’s the immense off-field support, which has enabled Russia to play far better than the sum of their parts.

Russia vs Croatia Quarterfinal Prediction and Preview

Croatia’s Round of 16 performance against Denmark was broadly tepid compared to their efficient (Iceland, Nigeria) and spectacular (Argentina) group results, but it would be unfair to be too dismissive of Denmark’s defending to hold the Croatians to their first penalty shootout in World Cup history. This is only the 2nd time that Croatia have managed to escape the group stage since managing to reach the semifinals on their debut in 1998. Their round of 16 match made a considerable dent in Croatia’s shooting efficiency; their 8 goals from 16 shots on target is still a reasonably good record, but their 61 shots overall is amongst the highest (of the sides who made it to the round of 16, only Belgium, Brazil and Spain have had more total shots). The main players guilty of such wastefulness include Rakitic, Perisic and Mandzukic, who together have scored just 3 goals from a total of 29 shots. That said, Croatia have nonetheless been one of the more impressively coordinated teams at the tournament thus far; their defensive efficiency has shown its own value having conceded only 2 goals from only 14 shots on target across 4 matches. Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic has added his part to this story with 7 saves at an 87% save rate.

Tactical Considerations:

Coach Stanislav Cherchesov made a critical change to the 4231 that served them in the group stage to instead frustrate Spain with a flooded backline in a 3421 setup. Croatia don’t have the same patience and mixed form, making them a far more dangerous prospect to defend against. Given Croatia’s strength in midfield, it would be fair to anticipate Russia to flood the centre in protection; Kutepov, Ignashevich and either Zhirkov / Granat behind Zobnin, with either Gazinskiy to offer additional cover, or Golovin to offer better threat in transitional moments. Cheryshev may again be preferred as an impact substitute. The key player for Russia though, will most likely be Artem Dzyuba. Even though Dejan Lovren has been in solid form in the tournament, it’s his propensity to struggle against forwards with greater physicality that may make this a critical weakness to exploit.

Zlatko Dalic has cycled between variations 4231, 4321 and 4141 at the tournament, so it’s difficult to suggest what the system will be against Russia; however, given the expectation that the Croats will likely dominate possession anyway, a flooded midfield with Modric, Rakitic and Badelj isn’t beyond comprehension. This may also be by design to give Russia’s defensive midfielders more than one playmaker to be concerned with. The back five of Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida and Strinic is likely to remain intact. The wildcard will be how the wide and attacking players are used; Russia’s ability to handle aerial battles by comparison to speed and trickery may likely make the latter the main weakness to exploit, making the likes of Perisic, Rebic and Kramaric more viable options than Mandzukic.


Match Facts & Summary

  Russia Croatia
World Cup Base Moscow Leningrad
2014 World Cup Finish Group Stage Group Stage
Total Head to Head Record Played 3, Croatia 1 Win
Total Head to Head (World Cup Only) Never played each other in World Cups
Record in World Cup Quarterfinals Played 4, Won 1 Played 1, Won 1
Penalty Shootout Record Won 1 of 1 Won 1 of 1
Odds – Result 2.73 1.21
Odds – To Win World Cup 20.00 6.00 (4th favourite)
Best Odds – Golden Boot Dzyuba (79.00) Modric (97.00)
Best Odds – Golden Ball Unavailable Modric (9.00)

Our Prediction:

The dynamics at work in this match make for fascinating tactical variance; Russia’s transitional football against Croatia’s possession-based style; physicality against creativity, direct and efficient vs patient and considered. Croatia won’t make the same mistakes of slow tempo that Spain made, but lack the same spread of sheer talent. Russia will also need another defensive masterclass, and that may be bridge too far. But then comes the main threat – the sheer menace that Dzyuba could pose to the Croats in occupying Lovren and Vida to the extent that the likes of Cheryshev, Golovin or Samedov could take advantage, or Dzyuba himself being the winning piece. On paper, Croatia, like Uruguay, have the capacity to open up most defences and protect a lead favourably. But this would be a hazardous game for the Croats to chase, given Russia’s counter-attacking capabilities. Both teams will have challenges in chasing the fixture – so mistakes notwithstanding, it could well be a case of first to score in pole position to win. And while the charm is with the host nation – Croatia should have enough talent and experience to overcome that.

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* Please note – odds mentioned above are subject to change, so always check the latest published odds to be fully certain before betting.

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