2018 World Cup Round of 16 Preview: Spain Vs Russia, Croatia Vs Denmark

Another day, another round of 16 preview. Let’s take a look at the 2 games on Sunday, where we’ll see the hosts take on the 2010 winners, and a great Croatia team take on an underwhelming Denmark side.

Spain Vs Russia

This could well an truly be the most interesting tie of the day. Both teams have looked very good at points, while also showing some significant weaknesses. Let’s start with Spain, who go into this game as the winners of Group B, winning 1 and drawing 2. Talking about this Spain side without mentioning the early sacking Lopategui is difficult. While you can criticise the decision or agree with it, it has added an unnecessary pressure to this side. They were already tournament favourites for me, but losing the man who cruised them through qualifying and didn’t lose a single game, it will always be a what if. If the new Real Madrid manager was still in charge, would we have seen a much better side than we are seeing? We’ll never know. I think Spain haven’t looked at their best in this tournament. They seem to struggle to break down sides who play a low block, and they seem unable to get the best out of their forward, Diego Costa. Costa is a very specific forward. He is great at bringing in others into play, while also being incredible in the air. The issue is he doesn’t exactly fit into the way Spain want to play. Spain like to play a very patient possession style of football. It’s about overloading the midfield and the more technical players like Isco, Iniesta and Silva. They are all players who are able to find those pockets of space and use pick passes to put defenders in difficult places and exploit them. Costa works better in a counter attacking system. While he isn’t very fast, it’s his aggression and size that are his biggest benefit. You could argue they did overplay it against Morocco. I disagree. It seems to be the best way to break these low block teans down. While Spain haven’t shown their best, they still have been very good.

Russia have easily been the surprise package of this tournament. Even with their very old defense and injury list, they have definitely benefited from being the home team. You could argue that is their biggest strength. They seem to play with this fearlessness, as if every play just want to make their country proud. Their best players have easily been Aleksandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev. Both have been the best players Russia have produced over the years in talent. While Cheryshev’s club career did drop off a cliff after his time at Real Madrid, he has definitely performed in this world cup, scoring 3 goals. However while his club career has dropped, Golovin’s is only on the increase. The CSKA Moscow midfielder was sensational throughout the group stages. He did have a very good season for his club, but the issue is it’s hard to judge quality in Russia. However he has proved us all wrong. He has been the centre piece for that team. He has added that extra bit of quality and his ability on the ball has been excellent. He’s been averaging 2.5 key passes per 90, which has earned him 2 assists. His number of passes has dropped from Moscow, but his key passes have doubled. It shows how he is playing in a much higher position, and it definitely has benefited his team. After the 3-0 defeat to Uruguay, there are question marks on whether they can beat the former champions, but being a home nation always gives you that advantage.

For Spain to beat Russia, they need to make those centre halves as uncomfortable as possible. Their age and lack of mobility is their biggest weakness, and having such magnificent technical players could be key in getting right past them. They also have to get Costa on the ball much more. He will definitely help bring others into play and open space for his teammates. For Russia to shock us all, they need to show courage and play in the same mold they have all tournament. Make sure Golovin continues to be key and get him in those dangerous areas. Even if it would work, I still think Spain will get through his tie.

Spain 3-1 Russia

Croatia Vs Denmark

Both teams in this tie have reached my expectations. I expected Croatia to blow their group away, for simply having a great midfield and a solid defense. Denmark escaped their group, however it is clear that their over reliance on Eriksen is a huge issue. Croatia were very good in their group. They were only one of three teams to earn maximum points. They have a very good squad of players, with their midfield being easily their best area on the pitch. Next to Spain, I think Croatia have the best midfield in the tournament. They have a good balance in dictators and ball recovery specialists. Modric and Rakitic are brilliant dribblers and creators, however they struggle to play in a pair. This is wear Brozovic comes in, he has been the hard working player who has given his teammates a solid base, and give Modric and Rakitic less pressure. They dominated against Argentina because they completely outclassed them in that area. It has been excellent to see and why they have seen to be one of the favourites of the tournament.

Denmark actually have some very talented players. They possess some real talent in Pione Sisto, Youssaf Poulsen and Andreas Christiansen. However their best hope of getting anything out of this tournament is Christian Eriksen. He has been excellent for both club and country in the last year. He has contributed to all 2 of Denmark’s goals in the tournament, scoring one and assisting another. They have played some very good football in the tournament, and have used their forwards very effectively. Poulsen seems to play more as a second striker, while Sisto plays more as a traditional winger. It gives them a very good balance, and with Jorgenson very effective in connecting play, it has given them a good approach. I haven’t been paying too much attention to the Danish, so I will be interested in how they approach this game.

For Croatia to secure their place in the quarter final, they will need to take advantage of their midfield numbers. There will definitely be space between the midfield and the defense, with Denmark playing a very attacking 4-3-3. The likes of Perisic and Rakitic will need to get into those half spaces and help move the ball further up the pitch. Denmark have also given away 2 penalties, which means getting these players in bad areas could result in favourable decisions. For Denmark to beat the 98 semi finalists, they will need to take advantage of their more pacey players. Vida and Lovren are not exactly the greatest defenders, so using the pace of Sisto and Poulsen, could put these players in very comfortable positions. Eriksen will also be key for Denmark. Getting him on the ball as much as possible will be beneficial. I can still see Croatia getting through this one very easily.

Croatia 3-1 Denmark.

2018 World Cup Russia Preview: Group A

Group A

Russia

Saudi Arabia

Egypt

Uruguay

From now until the world cup, I’ll be previewing the world cup by analysing each group, starting on A and finishing on I.

Let’s start with the hosts, Russia are a very hard team to predict, because they never went through a qualification stage. Since they are the hosts, they are guaranteed a spot in group A. All I can take from this team is their performance in the 2016 euros, which was poor all around. They were very poor defensively and failed to show any attacking quality. They are also the lowest ranked team at the World Cup. They are the hardest team to predict, and they will also do the worst in this group. They are the lowest ranked team for a reason. The players themselves are very old. The average age of this squad is 28.4. that is absolutely ridiculous. Many players, like Akinfeev, Kudrayshov and Zhirkov. The biggest miss for them by a mile is easily the injury to Kokorin. The Zenit marksman scored 16 in 31, and bagged 6 in 9 in the Europa league. He sustained an ACL injury in the competition in March, ruling him out of the world cup. It’s a big miss for them, but they still have some good options to fill his boots. No they will have to rely on Dzyuba, who has done pretty well for his new club after leaving Zenit, scoring 6 in 10 appearances, Chalov, who has scored 6 in 1020 minutes. And Smolov. Out of the three, he has been performing the best, scoring 26 in 29 for Krasnador. All could fill the boots of Kokorin very effectively. I predict they will finish bottom of their group, because of their aging squad.

Next up is Saudi Arabia, one of many teams no one thought make it. I will not pretend as if I have seen them play, but from looking up how they did in qualifying.They finished top of their group in the second round of the AFC, finishing above the United Arab Emirates, and joining Japan and Australia into the third round. They had plenty of success in the third round, finishing second in group B. They will be relying on their goalscorer Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, who finished top of the whole AFC to help Saudi Arabia quality for the World Cup. They will be hoping he will continue his form into the tournament, but it won’t help another team with a very old squad, only 0.2 younger than the Russians. Third will be their finishing position.

The next two teams will be much easier to discuss, since I actually know players from their teams. Egypt qualified in a very dramatic way, with Mo Salah scoring a 94th minute penalty in the play off game against Congo, to send them through. In fact, the only reason why I think Egypt will do well in the entire Competition, is because of their dynamic forward. He is having a season similar to Messi, by carrying his teams through games with his talent alone. While I do like some of the other players in the squad (Hegazi and Elneny especially), it is all on Salah to pull his team through this relatively easy group. If he has a good world cup, they will finish 1st

Uruguay seem to be getting better by the season. Their heavy reliance on Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani cannot last much longer, with both over the age of thirty. It could be their last world cup. While both are exceptional players, they still have other talents who have had excellent seasons. Torreira has shown himself to be a potential world class midfielder, with him already being linked as Jorginho’s replacement, and Vecino, who has had a very solid time in Milan. While he won’t be starting, Christian Stuani has been excellent for Girona, scoring 16 in La Liga. Even with Suarez and Cavani aging, Maxi Gomez at Celta Viga is starting to look like a real talent. Even in defense we have known that Varela and Gimenez both look like solid players in the team. While their big two players will start to diminish, their future is starting to look bright. While I do like this team, I think Egypt have the momentum from their dramatic qualification still fresh, and that will help them finish above Uruguay.