Croatia stand in the way of hosts Russia and a place in the World Cup semi-final on Saturday, as they face off in Sochi. Russia have the home advantage in Saturday’s quarter-final tie, with the nation still on a high following their dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Spain in the last 16.
Croatia, meanwhile, came through a shootout of their own, seeing off Denmark following a nervy 1-1 draw. The hosts had never even got out of the group stage while known as Russia, but did reach the last four in 1966 as Soviet Union, while Croatia finished third in 1998.
Russia will be hoping midfielder Denis Cheryshev will be back to full fitness for the clash to continue his fine run of form at the tournament. The 27-year-old has impressed for Russia thus far, scoring three goals and netting a crucial penalty in the shootout against Spain in the last 16.
Croatia’s most influential player at the World Cup has been Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric. The 32-year-old has been pulling the strings for Croatia in midfield and has contributed with two important goals. He missed what could have been a match-winning penalty against Denmark, but showed character to step up and score in the eventual shootout that put his country through to the quarter-finals. Any team boasting a player of Modric’s quality can afford to dream, especially when he is supported by Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic.
Russia and Croatia have faced three times previously, with two of those ending goalless in qualifiers for Euro 2008; Croatia won the other meeting in November 2015
Croatia can expect a hostile reception at the Fisht Stadium on Saturday. For a country with a population of barely 4.3 million to beat a host nation of more than 142 million would be some achievement. But they certainly do not lack belief.