Croatia’s Super Mario can step up a level against Russia

The Croats meet the host nation to decide who'll take the fourth semi-final spot, and Mario Mandzukic can make the difference...

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Croatia to win – 6/5

After a bright opening, Croatia endured a chequered evening against Denmark in the round of 16. Their impressive group stage campaign – three wins from three, and only a single goal conceded by their reserves against Iceland – didn’t count for much once faced with the Danes’ defence.

It’s not a surprise. Croatia’s major tournament record is a strikingly disappointing one since their 1998 third place finish in France.

In 2008’s European Championships they infamously lost their composure after what seemed to be a late winner in a quarter final, ITV’s star pundit Slaven Bilic making a muppet of himself as their manager before Turkey equalised and won the subsequent penalty shootout.

Back Super Mario to plunder Russia’s defence with PaddyPower.com

The question is whether the 120-minute ordeal and penalty win versus Christian Eriksen et al marks a turning point for a side so often described as ‘dark horses’ they should consider sticking a Ferrari badge on their shirts.

We fancy Sunday’s success will have made them more like Black Beauty than Mr Ed in the equine stakes, and they’re just a better side than Russia, so we’d back them to take end the host’s challenge in 90 minutes here at 6/5.

First goalscorer: M Mandzukic – 5/1

The Juventus target man isn’t the force he once was, but he can still pose problems for defenders when given adequate supply by those around him.

Against a Russian defence that still includes Sergei Ignashevich – a man old enough to remember the times when Vladimir Putin was still in the KGB – marauding Mario may not need to be at the height of his powers to grab a crucial goal.

during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group D match between Croatia and Nigeria at Kaliningrad Stadium on June 16, 2018 in Kaliningrad, Russia.

The Croatians certainly have the players to lay on chances for him, with Rebic and Perisic out wide as well as Modric and Rakitic paired in the midfield.

It’s also worth saying the Croats defensively have been very solid. They were caught cold by the Danes in the first minute of their previous game, but having overcome that hurdle they should be able to withstand Russia’s lumbering leader Artem Dzyuba, which will give Mandzukic plenty of time to nab the opener in this.

Croatia Win to Nil, Mario Mandzukic to score & over 8.5 corners – 11/1

You can double up the above bets with an added Croat clean sheet and overs on the corners thanks to our #WhatOddsPaddy offers on this game.

Croatia have seen nine corners or over in three of their four games, while Russia have done so twice, with eight in their 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia, where they were so in control they barely needed to press.

As such, the 11/1 available is off interest if you’re looking for a double-digit price.

Are Croatia playing chess or Checkers? Either way, back them with PaddyPower.com

What do you think?