World Cup: Croatia favourites against surprise package Russia (Preview)

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Sochi, July 6 (IANS) A strong and compact Croatia will fancy their chances against surprise package and hosts Russia when the two sides clash in a FIFA World Cup quarter-final tie here on Saturday.

Croatia, basking in the afterglow of their golden generation of footballers, will be targeting the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1998 — when they made their debut as an independent nation on football’s biggest stage.

In 1998, Croatia finished third in the World Cup with a team considered to be their best-ever side. If they win against Russia, this Croatian team will join them in the history books.

In Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, Croatia have arguably the best midfield in Russia and Mario Mandzukic and Ante Rebic mean they will be more forceful in attack than the Russians. Rakitic and Rakitic have also been protecting defenders Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida.

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Rebic, along with Andrej Kramaric and Ivan Perisic may feature ahead of the midfield duo of Modric and Rakitic. Mario Mandzukic will lead Croatia’s attack. In case, Croatia go with three-man midfield, one of Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic may get a place.

Until their dramatic penalty shootout win against Denmark in the last round, the Croatians hadn’t progressed past the last 16 since 2008. They will believe now they that can equal the ‘Class of 98’.

Zlatko Dalic’s side showed what they got by dismantling Lionel Messi’s Argentina 3-0 during the group phase.

“We have shown in this World Cup that we have the right to hope for big things. We are playing really well and we have such players that we certainly should believe can go to the very end,” defender Domagoj Vida was quoted as saying by various media outlets.

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Croatia will pin their hopes on Real Madrid star Modric who has possibly been the best midfielder at the tournament.

Sixteen of Dalic’s squad play in Europe’s big five leagues, with Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic the hero against Denmark when he saved three penalties.

Coming to Russia, most of the host nation’s supporters believe that their last 16 win against Spain as a minor miracle as the hosts had just 25 per cent of the ball, but soaked up the Spanish pressure to win on penalties.

Croatia will present a similar challenge to the Spanish, with a tidy passing midfield, but the Croatians are more direct and Russia will have to defend as well as they did against Spain and maybe even better.

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The return of Alan Dzagoev should give them a bit more creativity in the middle of the pitch.

While their defence has looked shaky on occasions, Russia has genuine quality in attack. Spain will be wary of the threat posed by Artem Dzyuba, Denis Cheryshev, and Aleksandr Golovin.

Mario Fernandes, Sergei Ignashevich, Fyodor Kudryashov and Ilya Kutepov are expected to feature in defence.



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