By Paul Giblin
MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) --
Russia look to keep their World Cup dream alive
against Croatia in Sochi on Saturday night in a game which is
certain to bring the entire nation to a halt, so here are a few
background pointers ahead of what promises to be an historic and
Russia’s win against Spain on
penalties in the last 16 means they reached the quarterfinals of
the World Cup for the first time since 1970, when the
then-Soviet Union were beaten 1-0 by Uruguay after extra time in
Their best performance in the intervening 48 years was a 4-3
defeat (also after extra time) against Belgium in the last 16
round at Mexico 1986.
The hosts have only played Croatia three times, drawing both
of their meetings in the qualifying stage for the 2008 European
Championships, with Croatia beating them 3-1 in a friendly in
Rostov-On-Don in 2015.
Mario Mandzukic was one of Croatia’s goal scorers on that
occasion, and the big striker will again lead his side’s attack
in the Fisht Stadium on Saturday, as Croatia look to improve on
Spain’s showing against the hosts.
Croatia have arguably the most creative midfield left in the
tournament, but will have to avoid the trap of slowing the game
down as much as Spain did, allowing the Russians to regroup and
hit them on the break.
Mandzukic can be relied on to take the battle to Russia’s
center backs, while Ante Rebic should be more incisive that
either Isco or David Silva were for Spain.
Perhaps for that reason, Croatia will go into the tie having
scored in their last eight World Cup matches, and have not drawn
a blank in the finals since being held to a 0-0 draw by Japan in
Croatia have not reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup
since finishing third in 1998, and before their victory against
Denmark, had not won a knockout game in either the World Cup or
European Championships since 2008.
Indeed, their penalty shootout win against Denmark was the
first time Croatia had ever played extra time in the World Cup.
However, if Zlatko Dalic’s side want to match the feats of
the country’s heroes of 1998, they will have to beat a World Cup
host nation for the first time, after losing 2-1 to France in
1998 and 3-1 to Brazil in 2014.