In the last quarterfinal matchup in the FIFA World Cup, hosts Russia look to continue their Cinderella story as they face Croatia in a bid to move on to the semi-final of the competition.
The Russians have been very impressive so far and are looking to topple another team who are heavily favoured over them as they try to give their home fans more to cheer for.
Their progression has been the narrative of an exciting FIFA World Cup so far, with minnows beating giants and matches have all been competitive for the most part.
Now with so much on the line, Croatia are looking to continue changing people’s opinion on them as they charge to become real contenders.
Here are pointers for both squads and how the match might play out.
RUSSIANS HAVE THE MOMENTUM
Despite being ranked the lowest among the initial 32 teams involved in the World Cup, Russia have continued to defy the odds and now see themselves one of the last eight standing.
They opened their campaign with impressive wins over Saudi Arabia and England, putting a total of eight goals past these two teams.
Despite losing to Uruguay, the Russians did enough to finish as runners-up in Group A and were given the daunting task to face the 2010 World Cup winners in Spain.
Being down 1-0, the Russians found the strength to battle back and eventually even the game, doing enough to neutralise anything that the Spaniards could have done to beat them.
With the match boiling down to a penalty shootout, Russia’s Igor Akinfeev displayed why many touted him as the most important player for the nation as he stopped two Spain penalties to carry the team to the quarters.
Now they are set to face another challenge in Croatia and given their discipline especially in defence and their hard-nose style of play, it is extremely difficult to count the Russians out yet again.
CROATIANS ARE NOW CONTENDERS
Early on in the competition, many were wondering whether Croatia had what it takes to become contenders in the World Cup.
They had the talent with players like Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, but they were being overlooked against teams like Germany, France, Argentina and even Portugal.
However, in the group stages, the Croatians suddenly showed their potential, going unbeaten in three matches to comfortably win Group D – dispatching teams like Nigeria, Iceland and Argentina.
In the round-of-16, they were pitted against a tough Denmark nation who stretched the Croatians to the limit, needing a penalty shootout to determine a winner after a 1-1 draw after regulation and extra time.
With a 3-2 win on penalties, the Croatians are now only a win away from reaching the semi-finals, and are slightly favourites over the hosts of the competition.
Many expect Mordic and Rakitic to carry the team again and they should be two players extremely difficult to stop and their creativity and ability in front of goal should be vital if they wish to progress in the competition.
This is a very intriguing match as momentum will definitely play a big role in this clash. For Russia, they have defied the odds and counting them out is a mistake.
A big win over one of the favourites showed their determination and that they are ready to take on an enormous task. Buoyed by the support of the crowd, the Russians may have more tricks up their sleeves against Croatia.
However, this Croatian have learned from the mistakes that Spain did against Russia. Croatia should know that they should be able to constantly test the Russian defence especially with an impressive midfield.
Croatia are also eyeing their first semis appearance since 1994 and this group of players are looking more and more capable as each game goes by.
With that said, Croatia are likely to move on in a thrilling encounter.