1. A key theme of each remaining side - from Belgium’s comeback over Japan to England’s “It’s coming home” motto - is a sense of destiny. Croatia have their own story in beating Denmark in a shootout after Luka Modric missed a penalty in regulation. Russia have their own narrative after beating Spain in penalties. Each side has their story of why they are still in the tournament, and why they deserve to move on.
  2. Ivan Rakitic said Modric’s penalty miss against Denmark brought the team closer together as they couldn’t let their captain down.
  3. With three of the four semifinal slots filled before the match, the betting odds for the World Cup winner are as follows: France at 2 to 1, Belgium at 11 to 4, England at 5 to 2, Croatia at 6 to 1, and Russia at 20 to 1.
  4. Slaven Bilic observed before that match since Croatia like to be the underdogs, it would have been easier for the side to play Spain. He added that while Croatia have more quality, the home crowd turns the match into a 50/50.
  5. Another theme throughout the World Cup is the calmness of each manager. Russia had low expectations coming into the tournament but manager Stanislav Cherchesov exhibited a quiet confidence with an organized defense, height and physicality on set pieces and using the home crowd for extra energy. A former teammate said his biggest strength thus far is his ability to “withstand criticism” while continuing his original game plan.
  6. Cherchesov also quotes Anton Chekov during press conferences. 
  7. Meanwhile, the latest rumor is that Aleksandr Golovin has signed with Chelsea.
  8. As expected, Russia started the match in a similar defensive style as they did against Spain by forcing Croatia into listless U-shape passing without any penetration down the middle.
  9. Although their ideas in possession are just sending long balls towards Artem Dzyuba.
  10. Dzyuba’s inability to turn those long balls into an attack shows the contrast between a traditional hold up striker with Romelu Lukaku’s performance against Brazil. Not only in his ability to hold onto a ball with his back towards goal, Lukaku also offers options in wide areas as opposed to being stationary in the middle of the field.
  11. Denis Cheryshev’s goal shows his x-factor quality that has been overlooked for defensive compactness by Cherchesov.
  12. You could imagine Croatia with 90% of the possession with Russia packing the middle and backline after the opening goal. But Russia uncharacteristically got caught out with Mandzukic and Perisic overloading the left wing on their equalizer. Mandzukic and Andrej Kramaric were 2 v 5 in Russia’s box which shows that having numbers doesn’t equate to a good defensive structure, and quick movement and a clever ball can unlock tight spaces between center backs.
  13. Croatia bringing on Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic displays their depth in center midfield.
  14. Danijel Subasic injuring his hamstring seems like a match changing injury, especially with penalties inevitably looming. Yet he remains in the match.
  15. Both Domagoj Vida and Mario Fernandes’ goals in extra time came off set pieces. We understand how important set pieces are in the domestic game, they take on even more significance at the international level with teams lacking the cohesion and chemistry of an entire season.
  16. Once Josip Pivaric gave away the free kick off a needless handball, was there any doubt Russia would equalize considering how the excitement of this World Cup?
  17. The shootout between Denmark and Croatia taught us to never trust a lead. So when Russia missed their opening kick, one assumed Croatia would also miss at least one as well.
  18. Modric from the penalty spot has been its own roller coaster of emotion. He was so, so lucky, but it’s only right that one also earns that luck with quality.
  19. And while Modric earns the plaudits and Man of the Match awards, Rakitic has been so vital in holding his nerve to close out Croatia’s last two wins.
  20. This was the best result for neutrals as Croatia had the quality with 65% possession while Russia go out with without any regrets, battling to the end. In contrast to the sentiment before the tournament, Cherchesov says that the country has fallen in love with the national side and understands what they’re worth. And they have a young star in Golovin. It does feel like they’ve built a foundation for future sides to built upon.
  21. For Croatia, manager Zlatko Dalic admits that his side’s energy is a concern due to a combination of their second consecutive penalty shootout and the long season.
  22. Croatia vs England may not have the individual attacking quality of France vs. Belgium, but each side have been so assured in center midfield throughout the tournament. Rakitic and Modric will be a litmus test for where Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard actually are on the international level. It looks to be an open match where Croatia’s front six can excel with space.
  23. In echoing Bilic earlier, Dejan Lovren says that Croatia maintain their underdog status against England.
  24. Croatia don’t feel destined to win the World Cup as much as their results are grounded in the realism of an attack that works hard in defending and transitions, a midfield that can control tempo against any opponent, and an on-form keeper.
  25. The whispers have become louder throughout the last couple years, but Modric is either the best midfielder in the world or outright the most on-form player in the world. At 32 years old, on 14 trophies with Real Madrid and leading Croatia to the semifinals, we probably won’t truly appreciate his quality until after he’s retired.