FIFA World Cup Round of 16 preview: Spain-Russia and Croatia-Denmark

 Source: Paul White/AP Photo

Source: Paul White/AP Photo

Spain v. Russia

La Roja against the hosts of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Russia has played in several of the most entertainment matches in what's been the most exciting tournament in years. On the other side, Spain thrilled us with the 3-3 tie against Portugal in their opener, finishing atop their group to set the stage for Sunday.

Spain captain Sergio Ramos has spoken on the improvements his club has to make in the knockout stage, sentiments that were echoed by his teammates. Thiago Alcantara spoke on several issues the team got wrong and how they will need to correct their faults as the competition gets fierce and the stage becomes win-or-go-home.

Spain was able to maintain an average of over 70 percent of possession in their three group stage matches, yet only managed one victory. There is context behind that statistic, but Spain has shown that they can manage the ball and make a record-breaking number of passes but not create much fear or danger with the ball. Spain has lacked some penetration, creativity, and a playmaker on their XI, making La Roja not much of a threat with the ball.

Russia bulldozed its way through their first two matches, appearing like somewhat of a dark horse team before crashing down to Earth against Uruguay. Russia was completely outmatched. Their midfield just wasn't impressive, and they were hardly able to generate any fear in their South American opponents. The Russians only generated three shots in the entire game. They did play with 10 men for a majority of the game, but by this point were already down 2-0.

The host country will have the benefit of playing behind its fans, but will likely be looking for a counter against Spain considering their opponent’s style of play. Russia will have to capitalize on the mistakes Spain creates, like the miscommunication between Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta in their game against Morocco.

Prediction

Spain 2 - 0 Russia

 Source: Reuters

Source: Reuters

Croatia v. Denmark

Two national teams that have yet to suffer defeat in the 2018 tournament. Croatia has won all three of its games, including a masterful performance against Argentina, while Denmark managed to beat Peru in its opener, before tying against one against a potential favorite to win the tournament, France.

Before the tournament began, Croatia had one of the best midfields to play in this tournament, and those players have lived up to the billing. Luka Modric has been phenomenal for his national team just as he has been for Real Madrid. Ivan Rakitic has been great as well in this tournament, and for Croatia to go far, they both have to be better than their counterparts. Mario Mandzukic was a workhorse in the Argentina match, continuously pressuring the defense, looking for open spaces. Croatia have been able to create several chances in all three of their matches, and they have a chance to go far in the tournament.

Denmark has struggled with possession in all three of their matches so far in the tournament, a trend that will likely continue Sunday. However, in a one-game scenario it's all about scoring on the moments you are able to create. Croatia is not a far and away favorite in this game, but even with Denmark having the talents of Christian Eriksen and Thomas Delaney, Croatia will still command the better midfield.

Eriksen, who plays for Tottenham, has praised Modric, who had a positive spell with the club before joining Real Madrid. He is now an experienced player himself, with the ability to create moments of brilliance just like Modric and Rakitic. He scored an incredible goal against Australia and while he should not be relied on to score, his playmaking will be crucial for Denmark's success.

Prediction

Croatia 2 - 1 Denmark