Croatia Vs England Preview: Is football coming home or will the Vatreni hijack the plans?
Written by: Punit Tripathi
Two very similar teams seek to continue their eternal quest for global glory but only one will move forward.
England are 41% to Croatia’s 28% in win probability, but Khel Now assures you, these are just numbers. Infact, some minds in our team believe Croatia have more chances of featuring in the final. That assumption, though, would be pushing the envelope too far, at least for now.
England lead Croatia in terms of victories in all meetings, winning four times in eight games. The Eastern Europeans have won two and the spoils were shared in the rest. The teams, though, have met each other on just one occasion in the past, with England winning 4-2 in a group stage match at Euro 2004.
England have the drive, having reached the FIFA World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1990. Croatia have the unit, with eight different scorers. Whenever the need arises, the team finds a baller who fills the net. Under Zlatko Dalic, they have a numbing stability, with the midfield touted as the best in the World Cup, arguably.
England, though, have the sleepy persistence of a man who’s risen slowly, yet effectively. Gareth Southgate reportedly had his ideas in England’s U-20 World Cup win last year and the man is grilling the side well. The Three Lions are finally playing football and not reputation. Gary Cahill sits, Eric Dier sit, Phil Jones sits and Danny Welbeck hardly gets a chance.
That’s a positive. The team’s playing football and not brushing egos. (Historically, that has happened). Croatia, meanwhile, are passing from one "Golden Generation" to another. Ivan Rakitic rose late, but how the man has taken the sheen! Calmly slotting last penalties like taking his dog out for a walk, Rakitic has probably learnt something Leo Messi didn’t, at the Nou Camp that is.
How Can England Beat Croatia? Semi-Final Preview
About the Teams
Both managers will persist with what has worked so far and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. England have moved throughout the tournament with a defence-first strategy, with Jesse Lingard’s work-rate being a key addition from the midfield. The defensive duo of Harry Maguire and John Stones have not only gone up the pitch and played forward passes, but have also contributed with goals from set-pieces, magnanimously.
Croatia, on the other hand, play with a midfield that could control NASA (tongue-in-cheek). Such is the calmness on the pitch with Rakitic and Luka Modric playing together, that the Vatreni look like they're breezing along on the pitch and not really playing hard football. Marcelo Brozovic may return, with Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic taking their wide positions beside Andrej Kramaric in a 3-at-the-top.
At the back, Croatia have a robust combination. Dejan Lovren seems to have forgotten that he made mistakes at Liverpool and the sturdiness of Domagoj Vida might remind some of Carles Puyol (not the quality, though).
England, meanwhile, will depend on the all-around game of Harry Kane, who’s looked the most calm captain England have had since David Beckham. No antics and a drive to perform to the fullest, Kane is leading the line, quite literally.
The match will be played at the Luzhniki Stadium, the national stadium of Russia. Seating 81,000 fans, the venue is also set to host the final on July 15.
England: Pickford, Trippier, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Young, Henderson, Lingard, Loftus-Cheek, Sterling, Kane.
Croatia: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Brozovic, Rakitic, Modric, Perisic, Kramaric, Mandzukic.
What to Expect?
Both these teams are big on defensive organization, so chances will be at a premium and clinical finishing in front of goal, key. The first goal could be pivotal and the Three Lions will once again look to make the most of set-pieces, from whom they have scored a high proportion of goals in the tournament.
Croatia will again count on the duo of Rakitic and Modric to win the midfield battle. Both teams have previous experience of penalties at the tournament and will be ready to go the distance if needed. But, the Eastern Europeans have played a 120 minutes in both their knockout games so far and fatigue could be a factor if this one goes deep.
Khel Now Predicts
Croatia 2-1 England
Published: Tue Jul 10, 2018 07:59 PM IST