We look at the two key battles that could have a major bearing on the outcome of the game when England and Croatia clash in the semifinals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
We are at the business end of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. In what has been an eventful journey over the past month, filled with shocks and surprises in plenty, England will take on Croatia in the second semifinal at the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday.
The Three Lions made it to the final four, after a solid 2-0 win over Sweden in the quarterfinals, courtesy of goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli. Croatia, though, had to rely on penalty shootouts to edge out hosts Russia in the final eight stages of the competition, after having been held to a 2-2 draw for 120 minutes.
Both the teams haven’t made it this far in the World Cup for a long time – England last appeared in the semifinals in 1990, while Croatia did so in 1998. Neither side will want to waste the golden opportunity in front of them. And ahead of the big game in Moscow, we take a look at two key battles that could decide the fate of the game;
Harry Kane vs Dejan Lovren
The front-runner in the Golden Boot race, England captain Harry Kane has been absolutely sensational in Russia so far. The star striker has led the team by example and is currently sitting atop the goalscoring charts with six goals against his name from four appearances in the quadrennial extravaganza.
However, it should not be forgotten that Kane hasn’t scored a goal from open play since England’s rout of Panama in the group stages and failed to find the back of the net against the Swedes last time out. Yet, he will be the biggest obstacle in Croatia’s path to the finals of the World Cup.
And they will be hoping that the experienced Dejan Lovren will be able to deal with the danger that the 24-year old Englishman will offer. The Liverpool defender hasn’t enjoyed a lot of success going up against Kane in recent times at club level though.
The 29-year old was at fault for two of the four goals Liverpool conceded against Tottenham in the 4-1 drubbing in the Premier League last season, with Kane scoring three of those. Lovren was subbed off just thirty minutes into the game on that day, and the Croatian fans will be hoping that he fares much better on Wednesday or their team might end up being put to the sword by the prolific English captain.
Luka Modric vs Jordan Henderson
Real Madrid superstar Luka Modric, coming on the back of a third successive UEFA Champions League triumph, has been absolutely brilliant for Croatia so far in the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup. The 32-year old has contributed with two goals and an assist so far in Russia, leading his team by example with a string of impressive and influential displays from the middle of the park.
Modric usually slots in as part of a midfield three along with the equally impressive Ivan Rakitic and the defensive minded Marcelo Brozovic. He acts as the creative hub for the side, with almost everything positive that Zlatko Dalic’s men conjure up in the attacking half going through him. His ability to spray passes from midfield, the eye for a goal and the overall class and quality he brings, make him a dangerous prospect for England.
And the task of keeping a check on the Croatian will fall onto the shoulders of former Three Lions captain Jordan Henderson. The two met recently in the Champions League finals, with Modric claiming the bragging rights that day. But the Liverpool skipper, who has been the preferred choice as the sole holding midfielder for Southgate in Russia, has repaid the manager’s faith with some solid and dependable displays in the middle.
However, the 28-year old will have to be at his very best on Wednesday if he is to ensure that the Croatian midfielders don’t settle into their rhythm. Disrupting Modric’s usual passing game and keeping an eye on his surging forward runs from the middle should be at the top of Henderson’s to-do list going into the semifinal in Moscow.