MOSCOW – Russia meet Croatia on Saturday in the last match to be played in Sochi at this year's World Cup.
Fisht Stadium has already witnessed some of the most intense and spectacular action of Russia 2018, and the local fans will be hoping to bid a fond farewell to the venue by seeing the hosts advance to the semifinals.
Both teams came through tough battles in the Round of 16, in matches held only a few hours apart. Despite enjoying precious little of the ball against Spain, the Russians fought tooth and nail to protect their goal and eventually prevailed in a penalty shootout.
The Croatians were also taken to the wire by Denmark. Following a frenetic start during which both teams scored in the first five minutes, Zlatko Dalic's men were forced to endure a prolonged test of their nerves as the match went into extra time before ultimately prevailing after spot kicks.
It remains to be seen which of the two teams recovers from their emotional exertions quickest. The Russians will be looking to draw on every ounce of support that their fervent fans can muster in order to overcome Croatia's individual and collective talent.
Russia are still on cloud nine after surprising Spain, and the whole world, in the last round. But that unexpected victory is in the past and the Sbornaya are now fully focused on the next target in their sights: Croatia.
The only fly in the ointment for Stanislav Cherchesov is that he will be unable to call upon left winger Yuri Zhirkov against the Croatian stars.
Croatia are hoping to match the achievement of their predecessors from the 1998 World Cup, where the team reached the semifinal. During the group stage, they produced some fine football to defeat Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland.
Perhaps some fans were left a little cold by a passive showing against Denmark, but the Croatians may have been overawed by what was at stake. They will try to be more relaxed against the Russians.
Out of their five World Cup campaigns, this is the third time that Croatia have come up against the hosts.
They have not had much luck previously, however, with a 2-1 defeat against France in the semifinals in 1998 being followed by a 3-1 loss to Brazil in the Opening Match of the 2014 edition.
Russia: Igor Akinfeev; Mario Fernandes, Ilya Kutepov, Sergey Ignashevich, Fedor Kudryashov; Roman Zobnin, Daler Kuzyaev; Aleksandr Samedov, Aleksandr Golovin, Denis Cheryshev; Artem Dzyuba
Croatia: Danijel Subasic; Sime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic; Ivan Rakitic, Marcelo Brozovic, Ante Rebic, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic; Mario Mandzukic.
African News Agency (ANA)