SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russia employed an attacking mindset against their World Cup group stage opponents but played defensively in the knockout clash against Spain, and Croatia believe they must be ready for either approach from the hosts in Saturday’s quarter-final.
The Russians came into the tournament as the lowest-ranked team but began with a bang by beating Saudi Arabia 5-0 and Egypt 3-1 before losing 3-0 to Group A winners Uruguay. They reached the last eight with a win on penalties over Spain.
Russia changed tactics to play five at the back with a lone striker in Artem Dzyuba against Spain in the Round of 16 on Sunday, an approach that restricted their opponents to just one chance in 90 minutes.
“Yeah, we have watched almost all of their games,” Croatia forward Ivan Perisic told reporters at their training base in Sochi on Wednesday.
“Against Spain they used a different system, but you must adapt to every team you play against. So they thought it was the best tactics for them, and I think they made the right decision.
“We will prepare well for both versions. We still have a couple of days to prepare well.”
Croatia showed flashes of their stellar attacking game when they beat Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland to top their group. But, like Russia, they took a defensive route to the last eight with a 3-2 shootout win over Denmark.
With players such as world-class midfielder Luca Modric and a string of top-level forwards including Mario Mandzukic, Ante Rebic, Andrej Kramaric and Perisic, Zlatko Dalic’s team scored at least two goals in each of their three group matches, including firing three past hapless Argentina.
“I think we primarily must focus on ourselves because I think our team has bigger quality, we just need to show that on the pitch and we will be able to set the tone,” Rebic said.
Croatia had a patchy qualifying campaign, slipping from first to third in the group and then sacking coach Ante Cacic in the closing stages.
Dalic came in and his side have staked a claim as one of the dark horses in this tournament.
“Every coach has some new ideas, and after a couple of poor games we played... maybe, as we can all see, it turned out for the best,” Inter Milan forward Perisic added.
“Every coach has his ideas, and after that moment (when the manager was changed) everything improved so we all can only be pleased.”
Ever since a talented Croatian side reached the 1998 World Cup semi-finals in their second major tournament as an independent nation, subsequent generations have been under pressure from the country’s fans and media to emulate the feat.
The current group is one more win away from getting there.
“It’s a dream to be in a similar situation,” Perisic said. “Now is the time and hopefully we can achieve a similar result. We are really looking forward to the game against Russia.”
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Neil Robinson