However, it will be Croatia who finish as winners of Group H if they can prevail in a hugely-anticipated fixture in Split.
When the draw for this qualification campaign was made, Croatia and Russia would have been delighted and mentally prepared for a pivotal showdown on matchday 10.
While the two nations meeting in a decider on Sunday comes as no surprise, neither team have had it all their own way, particularly Croatia who went down 1-0 to Slovenia in their opening game.
A 2-2 draw at home to Slovakia also hindered their efforts, but Russia's 2-1 reverse against the same nation back in March meant that they were unable to surge clear with the group.
Nevertheless, confidence will be high in both squads ahead of the contest in Split with Croatia and Russia running away with their respective fixtures on Thursday.
For 55 minutes, Russia made heavy weather of Cyprus in Saint Petersburg, but five goals in 32 second-half minutes eventually secured a 6-0 victory.
While Croatia conceded during the first half in Malta, they were 4-1 to the good by half time, Zlatko Dalic's side ultimately prevailing by a 7-1 scoreline.
There were six different goalscorers during that contest, and none of Croatia's players have managed more than three goals during their nine fixtures.
Russia's goals have also been evenly spread out and in a group which has featured 73 goals, Slovenia's Josip Ilicic is the only player to net four times.
The reverse fixture between these two nations took place in September, the game in Moscow ending in a goalless draw.
Barring any late fitness issues, Dalic will almost certainly name the same XI which started Croatia's win in Malta.
Valeri Karpin is expected to take the same approach with his Russia starting lineup after being able to adopt the same caution versus Cyprus.
Anton Zabolotny came off the bench to get on the scoresheet, netting just his second international goal.
However, the CSKA Moscow forward will not be preferred over Fedor Smolov, who also scored before his early withdrawal.
Croatia possible starting lineup:
Grbic; Juranovic, Caleta-Car, Gvardiol, Sosa; Modric, Brozovic, Pasalic; Majer, Kramaric, Perisic
Russia possible starting lineup:
Safonov; Sutormin, Osipenko, Diveev, Terekhov; Erokhin, Fomin, Golovin; Miranchuk, Smolov, Mostovov
We say: Croatia 2-1 Russia
Given the level of their performances on Thursday, both nations head into this contest full of confidence. While all three results are possible, we are going to back Croatia to edge this contest, forcing Russia to take a spot in the playoffs.
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