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World Cup 2018-Messi, Ronaldo go home. Sunday 1/8 finals preview

World Cup: Round of 16 Preview – Day 2

Spain vs. Russia (FOX, 10:00 a.m. ET)

Spain needed two injury time goals in two different games to avoid tricky Uruguay and draw hosts Russia in the last 16. Fernando Hierro’s men won their group – but only just after securing a late draw with Morocco while Portugal drew with Iran.

Nonetheless, they were the best team in that section by a long way and are 8/13 favourites to beat Russia in 90 minutes. Spain are in by far the easier half of the draw: the hardest possible route to the final should they beat Russia would be Croatia and England.

Russia were enjoyably bold in their opening two matches, but we probably saw more of their true quality (or lack thereof) as they were soundly beaten by Uruguay in their last group game.

Stanislav Cherchesov’s men tested themselves against some of the strongest sides in the world ahead of the tournament, but they generally struggled as they lost to the likes of France, Brazil and Argentina. However they did manage a creditable 3-3 draw with Spain, whose defence has not looked nearly as secure as many thought it would before the tournament. Their goals conceded have often come from individual errors or moments of brilliance, but they have also been opened up on the counter-attack numerous times.

Russian playmaker Alexander Golovin was rested against Uruguay and will return here. Artem Dzyuba has looked a handful up front while Denis Cheryshev was the tournament’s early breakout star. The concerns over the general lack of quality in this Russia team still stands, and even at 11/2 it is hard to make a case for them.

But they can get on the scoresheet in what looks like being an entertaining defeat.

Prediction: Spain 3-1 Russia
Top Bet: Spain to win and both teams to score at 10/3

Croatia vs. Denmark (FOX, 2:00 p.m. ET)

Along with Uruguay and Belgium, Croatia picked up maximum points from their group games and now stand a great chance of getting really far in this World Cup. They are sixth favourites at 12/1 to win the final on 15 July.

Their group looked difficult. However they were helped by Nigeria simply not turning up in the opening game. But it was their 3-0 demolition of Argentina that really made people sit up and take notice. The subsequent 2-1 win over Iceland showed that, even when making numerous changes, this side can break down deep defences.

And that is the kind of side they will face in Denmark, who finished runners-up in France’s group.

They were not impressive in any of their three games. They were fortunate to edge past a bold but wasteful Peru side, before a very even stalemate against Australia. That followed by far the dullest match of this (or any) World Cup as they played out a 0-0 draw with France.

Perhaps with the exception of Egypt, Denmark are the most extreme one-man team at this tournament. Everything goes through Christian Eriksen.

Croatia have a history of failing at this stage, most notably at Euro 2016 and Euro 2008. But on both occasions they deserved to go through.

At 17/20 they are good enough for me. Denmark probably the second worst team left in the World Cup after Japan. Croatia’s defence, midfield and attack all good in good shape. And a quarter-final against Spain would be a fascinating match-up.

Prediction: Croatia 2-0 Denmark
Top Bet: Croatia at 17/20

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