This World Cup has been full of surprises, yet arguably the biggest one is that hosts Russia are playing for a place in the semi-final. They were given little chance before a ball was kicked but have enjoyed a fantastic journey that may not be over yet. Croatia will start as favourites given the superior quality they have but you can’t write off the hosts after their remarkable win over Spain last time out.
Russia have been a real positive of this tournament, impressing with their togetherness, spirit and showing moments of real quality at times. They aren’t blessed with outstanding individuals but they are effective, stubborn and will be on a real high with the nation backing them in bug numbers which means they have a chance of beating the Croats.
Yet, there’s no disputing who has the better players in this game on paper. Zlatko Dalic’s side are packed full of star names with Luka Modric the standout player. He has enjoyed a terrific tournament, along with Ivan Rakitic in midfield and the pair will hope to continue that form against the hosts.
Here we will give you Russia vs Croatia betting tips, look at where the game will be won, the key players and a Russia vs Croatia prediction for the last eight clash.
Our Russia vs Croatia Prediction: Russia 1-3 Croatia
Our Russia vs Croatia prediction tips is for the hosts fine World Cup adventure to come to an end, with the Croatians having too much quality for them.
As mentioned, Russia have already exceeded expectations so there will be no pressure on them. Their incredible performance against Spain, where they ultimately won on penalties was a fantastic achievement but could have taken a lot out of the players. There is a short turnaround between games and they will be exhausted both mentally and physically after the way they have performed. Whilst the backing of the home crowd will help them, they may have to do a lot of running again and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their high standards out of possession.
That’s because Croatia can keep the ball for fun. It’s no exaggeration to say they have the best midfield pairing in the tournament, and perhaps even the world. Modric is arguably the best in his position and Barcelona’s Rakitic provides a perfect partner and they will look to pull the strings tonight. Ultimately, that class should tell, although Croatia’s alarming drop off against Denmark last time is a cause for concern.
Our recommended tip – Croatia to win
You have to acknowledge that Croatia are lucky to be here. Denmark pushed them all the way and probably deserved to win before eventually losing on penalties.
However, you get the feeling Croatia will not let that happen again and will get back to their high standards. We’ve mentioned their midfield and going forward you have Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic who will be major threats to the Russians. Whilst the hosts are not as bad as observers said, they aren’t on the same level as Croatia and we think that quality will shine through over the 90 minutes.
Therefore, the odds on Croatia to win look very fair. Russia will sit deep, block spaces and look to counter and they can be effective at that, but if Croatia land the first goal the dynamics of the match change. Croatia have more balance and variety in their play and can adapt, whereas Russia will struggle. They will be reliant on striking first and holding on but it could be a tough evening if they fail to do so and with the quality Croatia have you must back them to get a semi-final place.
The clash in Sochi will be the fourth meeting between the nations and Croatia have had the better of it, winning one and drawing two of the previous three games. It will be their first meeting at a World Cup and the first match since 2015.
As we covered, Russia have shocked everyone to get to this stage but it’s been thoroughly deserved. They made light work of their group, qualifying after successive wins over Saudi Arabia and Egypt where they impressed with their attacking football. They then lost to Uruguay to set up a last 16 meeting with Spain and it was certainly not an attacking display then! Instead, they showed another side of their game, sitting deep, surrendering possession but scoring from a penalty to equalise and holding on for penalties, with Spain not creating too many clear chances. Whilst they won’t be as negative today, they will adopt a similar game plan.
Meanwhile, Croatia were arguably the standout team in the group stage, collecting maximum points against Iceland, Argentina and Nigeria and their performance against the South Americans was probably the best of anyone at that point. However, they dropped off against Denmark and seemed to struggle with the pressure and tag of favourites. That must chance and if they are right mentally then a semi-final place beckons.
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Players to watch – Artem Dzyuba & Luka Modric
The big target man is a real threat with his strength and aerial power and has scored some crucial goals, including against Spain last time out. He relies on service but if it comes he is almost unstoppable in the air and that will be an obvious tactic for the hosts. He will also be needed to hold the ball up and to bring others into play, relieving pressure if Croatia dominate the ball as expected.
Modric went from villain to hero last time, missing a penalty in extra-time to win it for Croatia but showing his courage to score in the shootout. Either way, he is the top man in this side and has been superb in Russia, weighing in with crucial goals and controlling play. Russia can be a stubborn side and his creativity from deep will be vital in helping the side break them down.