This World Cup has been a tournament of unpredictability. This high-octane quarter-final will see the clash between dark horse Croatia and the host and upstarts Russia.

Both the sides have impressed so far in the tournament with stellar performances from players. While the Russians have done a great job in defence (they beat Spain in the round of 16), the Croatians (winners against Denmark to get here) are the ones with the more explosive offence. Croatia are loaded with Series A players while Russia feature a mostly domestic-based roster.

Which team emerges victorious will largely depend on individual stars who can make a difference in this game. While both teams got here after winning penalty shootouts in the round of 16, it could very well come down to a single player to decide who wins this matchup. Ergo, the pressure on both the teams will be at an all-time high.

Before the match, based on an analysis of their previous performances, here is a list of the five possible matchups that could decide the match.

Vladimir Granat vs Ivan Perisic

Expect lots of action on the flanks. With Yuri Zhirkhov not around against Croatia due to injury (he left the Spain match at halftime and was later diagnosed with an inflamed tendon in his calf), meaning the hosts will need to field other players to fill the gap such as veteran Vladimir Granat.
Perisic is a better-known quantity with loads of top-level experience at both the club and national team level. However, this World Cup has been mostly about surprises and one can never predict what will happen.

Aleksandr Golovin vs Ivan Strinic

Aleksandr Golovin has been the midfield linchpin of this Russian team. His ability to attack, create space for his teammates and shoot from long range have all helped this team grow with each game at this tournament. For a team that does not have offence as its natural game plan, he is the single reason for the offense standing tall.
The aim of Ivan Strinic will be to stop the storm that is Golovin. The Croatia left-back is good on the ball and can strip opponents of it each time he gets close. It will be crucial for his side that he brings his best game to the table.

Artem Dzyuba vs Marcelo Brozovic

The duel between Artem Dzyuba and Marcelo Brozovic will also keep the viewers glued. The midfield may be one of those areas where this game is either won or lost. Both players bring immense talent to the middle of the park. Artem Dzyuba is a forward, but if Stanislav Cherchesov deploys his men in a more defensive-minded formation, as he did against Spain, he’ll spend a lot of time trying to disrupt Brozovic in holding midfield. For the Russians it will be all about set pieces and getting Croatia on the counter. For Croatia, it will be all about chasing the ball and hoping that possession and prettier plays work better for them than they did for Spain in the round of 16.

Russia’s defence vs Luka Modric

With Luka Modric the creative force behind this Croatian team, the Russian backline and the defensive midfielders will give him a tough time all game. The almost impenetrable wall with at time 6 defence players on the field forced the 2010 World Cup champions, Spain to muster shots from only outside the penalty area.
Modric will need to have a better game than he did against Denmark if Croatia are going to get in behind the Russian defence. He needs to pass the ball more and create space for his teammates. A lot will depend on whether Croatia’s offense can play direct enough to put the Russian defence in a panic.
Zlatko Dalic’s side have scored at least two goals in each of their three group stage games (including three past Argentina) to emerge as one of the tournament’s dark horses. Croatia will need to come out strong from the start or risk being frustrated by a Russian defence that has proven to block the best teams in this World Cup.

Igor Akinfeev vs Danijel Subasic

It’s a battle between one penalty-stopper and another. Both Igor Akinfeev and Danijel Subasic did a magnificent job against Spain and Denmark, respectively, as their teams advanced via shootouts.
Given the Russian defence, it could be a matter of time before the shoot outs determine the fate of the teams. In such a scenario, the onus will be on these two players whether they carry the glory or the disappointment of their nations.
Tune in to watch this classic saga unfold on Saturday!