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Russia v Croatia: Perisic channelling iconic 1998 team in pursuit of glory

Croatia-cropped Mario Mandzukic and Croatia celebrate a goal at the World Cup (source: Getty Images)

Ivan Perisic believes the current Croatia team can surpass the achievements of the famous 1998 side in their quest to win the World Cup in Russia.

It has been 20 years since Croatia announced themselves on the international stage after finishing third at France 98 – the country’s first World Cup appearance.

Boasting the likes of Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban and Robert Prosinecki, Croatia stunned the world as they defeated Germany in the quarter-finals before falling to hosts France in the final four, though the Balkan nation trumped Netherlands in the third-place play-off match.

Now a new generation – led by Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic – has Croatia dreaming of the ultimate success following years of promise as they prepare to face hosts Russia in the quarter-finals in Sochi on Saturday.

“We’ve come close and hopefully we can go a bit better them now,” Perisic said. “We believe in ourselves. We know our qualities.”

It is almost 20 years ago to the day that Croatia defeated Germany 3-0 to book their spot in the semi-finals of the 1998 tournament.

“I was four years old when I watched matches from the World Cup in France,” star forward Ante Rebic said. “I remember the victory against Germany. My family were barbecuing in the garden and the atmosphere was fantastic.”

However, in order to reach the same stage this time around, Croatia must first get past a resilient Russia team growing in confidence after the host nation sensationally eliminated 2010 champions Spain.

Russia – for whom Yuri Zhirkov and Alan Dzagoev are fitness doubts – were outclassed by Spain but managed to earn a 1-1 draw after extra time before surviving a penalty shoot-out thanks to goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.

Aleksandr Golovin – who has been linked with Chelsea and Juventus – said: “Spain control the ball against any team in the world. We found a solution against that.

“I think against Croatia we’ll use our strong qualities and try to impose our style. It doesn’t mean Croatia are weaker than Spain. It only means that Croatia have a different style. They don’t need the ball all the time to create chances.

“This suits me better. I know what I’m talking about, I’ve watched all their games in the group stage. I think it’s going to be a very even game. The team that shows more character, that is more persistent, will gain the advantage.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Russia – Artem Dzyuba

Artem Dzyuba has been directly involved in four of Russia’s last seven goals at the 2018 World Cup (three goals, one assist), scoring both of their last two.

Croatia – Mario Mandzukic

All eyes will be on Modric and Rakitic but Mario Mandzukic scored his third World Cup goal for Croatia against Denmark in the last round – only Davor Suker (six) has scored more for them at the World Cup.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– The last five host nations to feature in a World Cup quarter-final have all progressed to the semi-final (Italy 1990, France 1998, South Korea 2002, Germany 2006 and Brazil 2014).

– Croatia have scored as many goals in four matches at this year’s World Cup (eight) as they did in six games in their previous two World Cup appearances in 2006 and 2014 combined.

– Russia had 10 shots on target in their first two 2018 World Cup games – they have managed just two in their last two matches, with one of those a penalty (Artem Dzyuba v Spain).

– After keeping clean sheets in both of their opening games at this World Cup, Croatia have conceded once in each of their last two matches. They have not conceded a goal in three consecutive matches at the same World Cup tournament since 2002, when they failed to keep a clean sheet in all three of their matches.

– Croatia have only lost one of their seven World Cup matches against fellow European opposition (W5, D1), while Russia have never beaten a European team at the World Cup (D1 L3), although they did eliminate Spain on penalties in the last 16 of this year’s tournament following a 1-1 draw.

– 10 of Croatia’s last 12 World Cup goals have come in the second halves of their games.

– Croatia have faced the host nation at the World Cup twice previously, losing both matches against France in 1998 (2-1 in semi-final) and Brazil in 2014 (3-1 in group stage).

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