Hosts Russia meet Croatia in Sochi to determine the final spot in the semi finals. Both Russia and Croatia prevailed in the Round of 16 via penalties. Coming of extra time, it can be expected that the game will be relatively more open and attack minded than their previous round.
The Croatian golden generation of Vedran Ćorluka, Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic, and Mario Mandzukic, have often threatened to reach the highest echelons of international football, but have stumbled at crucial stages due to over cautiousness and managerial instability.It seemed as though Croatia were to face similar disappointment when Luka Modric missed a penalty in the dying minutes of extra time to grant the lifeline of a penalty shootout to Denmark. Goalkeeper, Danijel Subasic’s heroics combined with flawless penalties by Modric and Rakitic took Croatia over the line, but Croatia will be cognizant that familiar failings were once again at display. After an electric start to the game, Croatia sat back and did not threaten the Danes. Modric and Rakitic performed more defensive tasks than creating chances. A reason for the stodgy display could be the lack of midfield balance in the trio Croatia uses. Brozovic, the third midfielder partnering Rakitic and Modric is not a defensive midfielder by trade, and with his propensity to charge towards the box, Modric and Rakitic have to adopt more deeper positions. Another cause for concern was the young winger, Ante Rebic, who failed to look convincing while switching wings with his wing partner, Perisic. For Croatia to succeed against the buoyant host nation, they need to get Modric and Rakitic on the ball in threatening areas, and to do so, Milan Badelj, the ex Fiorentina midfielder could offer the key balance. Assured on the ball and positionally aware, Badelj can give the platform for Croatia’s playmakers to shine. Andrej Kramaric, the enigmatic Hoffenheim forward, could be a perfect replacement for Rebic, with his ability to drift in space, naturally ambidextrous game, and propensity to link up with his players.Defensively, Croatia have look solid but unlocking their attacking potential will be the key to Croatia making their first semi final since 1998.
Manager Stanislav Cherchesov admitted after the victory over Spain that he spoke to each and every player in the team individually before the match, convincing that a 5 man defence would be the way to neutralize the Spaniards.
The players bought into their manager’s plan and provided one of the best defensive displays in the World Cup. They encouraged Spain to have the ball, sitting deep and ensuring that they don’t commit any silly fouls in the penalty box. Mario Fernandes, the recently naturalised Russian, and Fyodor Kudryashov, gave especially noteworthy performances, as they frustrated Spain’s plethora of midfielders. Facing a more direct Croatia, it is unlikely that Russia will adopt the same method. Not only will Croatia try to beat their marker through pace and deliver crosses into the box, but they will also leave more space in midfield which Russia should look to exploit. A reversion to the 4-2-3-1 is possible, with the inclusion of Denis Cheryshev as a left winger. Playing two wingers in Samedov and Cheryshev gives more service to the towering Artem Dzyuba who can trouble the ageing Croatian defence.
Player to Watch
Ivan Perisic; The ambidextrous Inter Milan winger can be electric on his day but has not displayed his best form for Croatia, partly due to the imbalance in midfield. Facing one of the form defenders of the tournament in Mario Fernandes, a huge onus is on Perisic to try beating him on the outside and delivering crosses for target man, Mario Mandzukic. His ability to switch wings and cut in will be crucial as well, allowing Perisic to pull the trigger from distance.
Artem Dzyuba: The temperamental striker with his impactful displays and constant menace in front of goal, has displaced Fedor Smolov from the starting lineup. He was the catalyst for the comeback against Spain, causing confusion with his aerial prowess and forcing Pique to concede a penalty and converting the ensuing spot kick to equalise. Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren have not been tested by a physical striker such as Dzyuba, and if Russia sets up in a more attacking manner, Dzyuba could prove a handful in the penalty area.
Subasic- Vrsaljko, Loveren, Vida, Strinic- Rakitic, Badelj- Kramaric, Modric. Perisic- Mandzukic
Akinfeev- Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Kudryashov- Zobnin, Gazinskiy- Samedov, Golovin, Cheryshev- Dzyuba
First Published: IST