England and Croatia are both on the cusp of history. But, who will come up trumps in the semi-final clash of the FIFA World Cup 2018 on Wednesday?
Croatia were not even labelled as underdogs coming into the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Despite a group of world-class individuals, Croatia had failed to impose themselves on the international footballing scene for a while. But, this was supposed to be the last World Cup for several individuals. The aforementioned thing seemed to have spurred Zlatko Dalic & co. to the semi-finals.
England, on the other hand, have always had to carry the burden of expectation at every international event. But, this time around, there was a different air surrounding the English camp – an air of promise, of inevitability. The Three Lions have managed to do what their golden generation failed to – reaching the semi-finals. Their next aim is the finals and then, perhaps, it does indeed come home.
Both the teams are evenly poised. Croatia endured consecutive penalty shootouts against Denmark and Russia respectively. England, on the other hand, won their first penalty shootout in a long time, against Colombia before dispatching Sweden carefully to set up a date with Croatia.
As the two teams prepare themselves for a date with destiny, we take a closer look at the squads.
Team News & Tactics
Sime Vrsaljko’s injury against Russia has seen him as a confirmed absentee for the remainder of the World Cup campaign. While this will be a huge blow to Croatia, Zlatko Dalic has the experience of Vedran Corluka to fall back upon. Corluka may not have the same pace as Vrsaljko. But, the former Tottenham man will be looking to use his experience to navigate the threat posed by the quick English forwards.
The only other change could come in the form of Andrej Kramaric. The player was a surprise starter against Russia, with Marcelo Brozovic dropping to the bench. But, Brozovic could return to the lineup, allowing Luka Modric to play in the number 10 role.
While Mario Mandzukic has done a more than able job upfront for Croatia, Ante Rebic has been the star of their campaign thus far. The attacker has been on the money so far and will be looking to finish the World Cup campaign on a strong note.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Subasic; Corluka, Lovren, Vida, Strinic; Rakitic, Brozovic; Rebic, Modric, Perisic; Mandzukic
Jordan Henderson has a slight chance of missing the game against Croatia, with the midfielder suffering a minor hamstring issue. Henderson will be available though, should Gareth Southgate decide to not tinker with the winning formula thus far. Alternatively, Eric Dier could be the one to be thrust into the starting lineup.
Dele Alli finally hit form against Sweden and is likely to have done enough to retain his place ahead of Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Raheem Sterling also came under fire for his misses upfront. But, the Manchester City star plays an intriguing role that allows Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard to do what they do best.
Despite the misses, Raheem Sterling should start again, with Marcus Rashford an option from the bench.
Harry Kane leads the Golden Boot race and could also be a contender for the Golden Ball with a brilliant performance against Croatia.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Alli, Dier, Lingard, Young; Kane, Sterling
1. England have scored 9 goals in their last 2 meetings with Croatia in all competitions.
2. England and Croatia have both managed to score in 4 of their last 5 matches, with the only occasion being a 2-0 win for Croatia at Euro 2006.
3. England have a better accuracy rate than Croatia at the World Cup so far. Croatia have scored 10 goals with an average of 15.4 shots per game. England, on the other hand, have scored 1 more with a far lower average of 13.6 shots per game.
4. Successful rotation – Each player in the England and Croatia squad has played at the World Cup up until now.
5. John Stones has as many goals (2) at the event so far as Croatia’s highest scorer, Luka Modric.
Player to Watch
The entire cast of 22 players and perhaps more, are tempting options as the main man to keep an eye on. But, we just can’t look past Luka Modric. The Real Madrid star is responsible for keeping the Croatian machine ticking. And against a midfield-heavy 3-5-2 formation, his passing abilities will be put to a stern test.
Should Eric Dier start in place of Jordan Henderson, Gareth Southgate is likely to direct Dier to mark Modric out of the game. It will be up to the creative supremo to wield his magical feet and weave his way through Dier and the English defence, either by himself or through his passes.
There has been an air of dominance around Croatia’s midfield thus far in the competition and we can expect it to continue against England. Modric will have to be the humdinger if Croatia are to win.
Croatia 4-3 England
We expect this to be a goal glut. Croatia and England both have too much quality to not be able to unlock the opposition defence during the course of 90 minutes. The two teams will be going at it and majority of the 90 is to be an open game, unlike England’s matches thus far at the World Cup.
The only place where England will be susceptible will be the right flank. Kyle Walker has pace but has often been caught out on his positioning. The Manchester City star is a new customer in central defence and is still getting used to the change he has to incorporate in his positioning.
The transition is not yet complete and this might hurt England against Croatia, especially since Ante Rebic has been causing havoc on the right. England will give it their all. But, Croatia are likely to have just a tad too much in their bag for Gareth Southgate & co.
Regardless of the result, Croatia and England should both be proud of their achievements in Russia.