Witters Sport-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Russia forward Artem Dzyuba
World Cup Betting: Croatia vs. Russia, 2 p.m. ET, FOX
- Croatia +124
- Russia +298
- Draw +210
Bet To Watch
Mario Mandzukic to score first (+600)
It’s been a dream World Cup so far for Croatia and Russia, both longshots before the tournament. Now they’ve got realistic goals of advancing to the final. Both sides were victorious in the Round of 16 after going to a penalty shootout: Croatia eked by Denmark, and Russia shocked Spain.
The good news for Russia is that the last five hosts to reach the quarterfinals also made the semifinal (Brazil 2014, Germany 2006, South Korea 2002, France 1998 and Italy 1990). However, besides South Korea, those teams were all powerhouses in the first place. Russia are +150 to advance to the semifinal, so odds are stacked against them even with home-field advantage.
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Russia used a three-man defense against Spain and soaked up pressure, but may return to four in the back against Croatia. They’ve made it very difficult for their opponents to find a rhythm, and have committed the most fouls and most bookings of any team in the tournament. Against superior teams such as Uruguay and Spain, they’ve clearly gone for a more defensive-minded approach, but may try to surprise Croatia with a more attacking strategy.
Either way, Croatia should have the bulk of possession on Saturday afternoon and may need to score an ugly goal to advance, so who better than Mario Mandzukic to clean up around the net? He got off the schneid in the last match against Denmark and should have plenty of opportunities against Russia, especially as the main man up top.
Croatia’s matches don’t feature many goals and have finished with two or fewer in 13 of 17 games. With a low O/U listed at 2 for Saturday, bettors should expect more of the same against Russia. The first goal of the match may be the only one, and I like Mandzukic’s chances of getting it at +600.