Before the World Cup started, we mentioned the statistic that host nations average three wins at their home tournament. We also thought it was ludicrous that Russia, a nation ranked below the top-60 in the world, could make it to the quarter-finals.
Well, here they are after win number three, and what a win it was. Although Spain were not as positive as they should have been against a team they should be beating nine times out of ten, you have to credit the resolve and fitness of the Russian players, and then the poise and maturity during the penalty shootout that ensued.
They now face a Croatian side who seemed to look a bit lost in their match against Denmark on Sunday night. This match mirrored Russia’s game against Spain in that two goals were scored in the first half (the first four minutes in this case), and Croatia, like Spain, became increasingly frustrated as time went on.
We thought that the match was going to go the way of underdogs Denmark when Luka Modric of all people missed a penalty with just minutes remaining in injury time. Yet the Croatians managed to escape from a penalty shootout in which the goalkeepers were on top, and will enter this match against Russia as the favourite once more.
Russia and Croatia last met in a 2015 friendly, with the Balkan nation winning 3-1 in Rostov-on-Don. Prior to that the two teams have met in European qualifying twice; 0-0 was the score on both occasions.
The home side will enter as the outsider, although it will take bravery to back against them considering they have an entire nation behind them. Croatia looked to be one of the favourites in this half of the draw to reach the final, but Denmark have provided a blueprint on how to get them to penalties, and Russia’s game plan will be almost identical.
At +274, Russia are tempting, but the most likely 90 minute result is a Croatian win, paying +117. The draw is also a very good chance and is on offer for +203. Expect these odds to change as people jump on the Russian bandwagon.
We’re tipping another tough match with Russia punching above their weight and Croatia once again struggling with the weight of the favouritism tag. Another 1-1 draw after 90 minutes seems the likeliest result, although we believe Croatia will manage to find a winner in extra-time on this occasion.