This World Cup has seen some real shocks and surprises, hosts Russia arguably causing the biggest stir when they dispatched Spain in the round of 16. That they needed a penalty shoot-out to do so took nothing away from an extremely determined performance from the lowest ranked side in the tournament, who now face a quarter final test versus Croatia at the Fisht stadium in Sochi.
The Croatians were tipped as dark horses to win the trophy on July 15 and so far Zlatko Dalic’s men have done nothing to suggest they couldn’t do so with a series of hard-working performances. Winning all three group games – including an fine performance during a 3-0 victory over Argentina – Croatia came through a penalty shoot-out versus Denmark, goalkeeper Danijel Subasic the hero having saved no less than three of the opposition spot-kicks in a thrilling battle.
With a midfield that boasts Inter’s Marcelo Brozovic in the holding role with La Liga stars Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric ahead of him, Croatia will look to direct the play towards talented wingers Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic, with workmanlike striker Mario Mandzukic holding up the ball for his team-mates.
It will be difficult for football betting fans to see how Russia will find their way past such a solid outfit in this match, but the hosts will be giving their all to pull off yet another shock result and follow in the footsteps of the last five hosts by reaching the semis.
Russia arrived at their own tournament as the lowest ranked team in the World Cup and suffered disappointing results in their warm up matches, losing to Austria and drawing with Turkey. However, once the competitive fixtures began, they looked much sharper, notching comfortable wins over Saudi Arabia (5-0) and Egypt (3-1) before losing 3-0 to Uruguay in a meaningless third game.
Then came that penalty shootout triumph over Spain, a result that will undoubtedly see them arrive in Sochi in good spirits. However, awaiting them will be one of the summer’s most impressive looking sides, Croatia having demolished Argentina en route to the last eight and emerging with a very real chance at least matching their best ever result at a World Cup, finishing in third place 20 years ago.
"The France 1998 generation were our idols,” midfielder Ivan Rakitic said. “They showed us the way we should go, but now we have to forget them. This must not be pressure, we have to enjoy this World Cup. I would like to see kids talk about us in 20 years.”
Croatia have history on their side too, recording two draws and a win in their three previous meetings with Russia, and a win for Zlatko Dalić’s men is the most likely outcome, available at a best price 6/5 with 10Bet.
Two statistics that stand out for Croatia offer excellent value too, with the first being that 10 of their last 12 World Cup goals have come in the second half of matches, the side often coming good in the second 45 minutes after being cautious to begin with.
As a result, a look at the Half time/Full time market is definitely well worth a look, with Bet365 offering 4/1 on the match being a draw after 45 minutes but with Croatia winning when the final whistle blows.
While the likes of Modric, Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic win the plaudits, goalkeeper Danijel Subasic and his defence deserve recognition too. Aside from the Monaco man’s exploits in the shootout win over Spain, he has helped the side maintain a solid backline, one that registered clean sheets in both their opening matches before allowing just one goal in each of their last two outings.
It is well worth noting that Croatia have not allowed opponents to score in three competitive matches since 2002, meaning it is likely they will record another shut out here. Bet365 is offering odds of 4/6 that only one team will find the back of the net, while the same bookmaker offers 4/9 on under 2.5 goals, both outcomes that are worthy of consideration.