While much global interest will focus on a potential classic encounter between Spain and Brazil, it is the first semi-final of the evening that perhaps holds the most fascination.
An intriguing match-up which pits the reigning elite against the aspirants. World champions Russia against New World dreamers Tahiti. Tiki Toa’s shrewd Swiss Angelo Schirinzi says he is now aiming to win the crown and, fanciful though that may seem to many, it would be a brave pundit that confidently shies away from the host nation. Tahiti were quite simply sensational in overpowering South American champs Argentina 6-1 in the quarter-finals. Suspensions and injuries could prove costly for the home side, but the players have said that the raucous Papeete crowd are a constant source of inspiration.
Russia have proved themselves to be a pragmatic side that seem to know exactly how to squeeze out a win when it matters. They have only managed to win their past two games by a single goal, and struggled for fluency against an undermanned Côte d'Ivoire in the group stage. But Russia’s hugely experienced squad are world champions for a reason and they as much as anyone should be able to deal with the adrenalin-charged atmosphere generated by the Tahitian crowd.
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Teva Zaveroni has been a constant in Tahiti football for well over a decade. Having led the Tiki Toa to their maiden win on the world stage two years ago as player-coach, the 37-year-old is now enjoying a remarkable career swansong. Zaveroni offers guile and experience in equal measure; two attributes that come in handy among the cut and thrust of a World Cup semi-final.
20 – Brazil head into the semi-finals as the top scoring team at the tournament with 20 goals in their four matches, one clear of Russia.
“Tahiti is a very good team thanks to the work they done over the past two years. We have no fears, it will be a pleasure to play against them in this stadium. We are happy to see all the people who come every night to see us play.” Russia coach Mikhail Likhachev