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06 Jul 2018

World Cup 2018: Russia have nothing to lose in Croatia quarter-final

REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

There's no doubt the surprise story of this World Cup continues to be the performance of the host nation. No side ranked worse than Russia heading into the even, but they took advantage of a favourable group draw and frustrated Spain during a stunning last-16 upset.

Croatia are next up Saturday night.

Read our preview of Russia's quarter-final tie with Croatia HERE.

Most pundits would suggest reaching the quarter-finals rates an already successful tournament for the Russians whilst others believe their improbable run seems fishy. Regardless, the reality is Russia are two wins away from an unthinkable spot in the World Cup final on their home soil. 

The way things have gone in the tournament, nothing should be a shock. 

REUTERS/Albert Gea

Usually playing host to a major sporting event like the World Cup brings an expected amount of pressure to perform well. With Russian football, the only concern before the tournament was not to be embarrassed. That quickly ended with an opening 5-0 rout of Saudi Arabia. 

Even with all Russia's achieved, there remains no pressure on Stanislav Cherchesov's side heading into their next challenge.

No load to shoulder

Aside from perhaps Sweden, the only other squad among the final eight with little-to-nothing left to lose are Russia.

Brazil are the top-ranked side remaining, whilst France and Belgium are also saddled with their own lofty expectations. England still have history to contend with, Uruguay might have to overcome the loss of one of their stars against the French and fellow underdog Croatia enter this match the favourite and do not want to become Russia's latest victim.

It doesn't matter that the Russians still can earn a top-four finish at the World Cup for the first time since 1966, when they were the Soviet Union and progressing past the group stage was common for the republic.

REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

But as long as they remain alive in this tournament, nobody will give them a chance to win - regardless the opponent.

Playing loose and confident, however, can go a long way, even in a tournament like the World Cup where tactical success is at a premium. Russia won't change what they've been doing, adapting for each match while trying to frustrate their opponent at the same time.

Russian expectations have long been exceeded, and that's what makes them dangerous.

Following their leader

Various reasons have been documented for Russia's World Cup success this time around, but Cherchesov might be the biggest. Despite plenty of criticism directed his way pre-tournament, the Russian manager has stuck to his beliefs and continues to do things his way.

A lengthy playing career made him a popular figure in Soviet Union/Russian football and this tournament has already done wonders for a managerial career that's seen its fair share of dues paid.  A couple more victories this month and Cherchesov might have a statue erected in his honour outside Luzhniki Stadium.

REUTERS/Henry Romero

His team is in excellent shape and playing with a purpose whilst still publically proclaiming their "just happy to be here" mantra. The latter shouldn't fool anybody, Cherchesov and his boys know exactly what they are doing and enjoy the role of supreme underdog.

Whether the magic continues against Croatia remains to be seen, but don't expect any nerves or jitters from the hosts. In their own way, Russia are sitting pretty without a care in the World Cup.

Listen to the RealSport football writers preview all the action ahead of the World Cup quarter-finals in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.