Russia can run but their luck has run out
All the talk is about France-Uruguay and Brazil-Belgium but my interest is peaked when host nation Russia meet Croatia on Saturday night. It might seem too obvious, almost like a cliché that I’m backing Croatia but they’ve got my money to finish the job. That being said I don’t think it’s going to be an easy task.
Both teams struggled against their round of 16 opponents, and it only took penalties to separate them. They’ll certainly have to up their game if they want to see the semis.
Russia have taken everyone by surprise, no less themselves, their fans and probably even President Putin, although he’d never admit it. Yes, the sleeping giants Russia, the lowest ranked team to go into the World Cup, even after group opposition Saudi Arabia would you believe - have exceeded expectations. Everyone wrote them off but they came storming out of the blocks to win their opening match an incredible 5-0 against a stunned Saudi team, in front of a rapturous Moscow crowd.
The fact that they’re through to the quarters is more about Spain lacking the sting, than Russia rinsing their opponents
Victory followed against a more doggedly difficult Egypt side in which they successfully managed to prevent Liverpool starlet Mo Salah from doing the dirty on them. Then their real test against Uruguay exposed the true weaknesses of their side, and they promptly and limply went down 3-0.
Nevertheless they incredibly managed to see off a Spain side that despite managing over a thousand passes couldn’t finish the job. It went to pens and Russia’s belief as well as their resolve saw them through.
Now they face a tougher foe in Croatia. Yes incredibly, Croatia will be tougher than Spain. Russia have outrun everyone, covering more mileage than any team in the competition. Although they’ll give it a good go, I think it’s time their luck will run out. Although Russia are a team with a tough mentality and a sense of togetherness, they simply lack the quality against better teams which we saw against Uruguay. The fact that they’re through to the quarters is more about Spain lacking the sting, than Russia rinsing their opponents off.
Likewise with their opponents, Croatia have been one of the surprise packages of the tournament. But it’s surprising that they should be considered a surprise, and this is for two reasons. Firstly, Croatia, a nation of just 4 million people are perennial overachievers in international competitions. Secondly, and more importantly, they have quality - serious quality.
Croatia don’t have respect for anyone and that's what makes them truly dangerous
With the likes of midfield maestros Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic in their ranks they can dictate play from the midfield of the park arguably better than any other team in the competition. Going forward they have the likes of Ivan Perisic on the flank and up-front hardman Mario Mandzukic bullying defences into submission.
What’s more, they look like a real team with real grit. Yes they battered an admittedly out of sorts Argentina but they didn’t buckle under the pressure or the weight of the reputation that the South Americans carry with them. Croatia don’t have respect for anyone and that's what makes them truly dangerous.
Their lack of respect for Russia in front a home crowd will see Croatia come good. But don’t underestimate Russia’s resolve. It will be a hard fought battle and one I’m thoroughly looking forward to for a Saturday night down the pub session. The bookies are backing Croatia to win at around x2 the money, but I’ve found odds with 10Bet that give a little bit more bang for your buck at odds of 5/4 (2.25).
Idi hrvatskoj! Go Croatia!