Talha Kamal
England and Croatia are on the brink of World Cup glory as they take on each other in the World Cup semi-finals in Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia.
Gareth Southgate’s men saw off Sweden with a confident 2-0 quarter-final victory, sparking scenes of jubilation back in England over the weekend. England will play their first semifinal at soccer’s biggest tournament since 1990, and only the second since lifting the trophy in 1966.
Croatia will likely provide England with one of their toughest challenges yet in Russia, but the Three Lions will be confident of reaching the final, especially with Croatia needing penalty shootouts to beat both Denmark and Russia to reach the final four.
Croatia are looking like arguably the best team in the tournament, sneaking the ball around with a slick and aggressive precision. In Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic they have one of the standout midfield pairings of the World Cup yet there is a sense that this is a team that sometimes lack cohesion and struggles to hit top form. By contrast, England are absolutely certain about what they do best and have got more effective at implementing it as the games have come and gone.
England’s aerial ability and taking their chances on set-pieces has been their biggest strength in this year’s World Cup. The opener against Sweden was another superb set-piece move. England’s smart movement and work on the training ground is paying off. Croatia needs to aware of England’s set piece ability if they are to eliminate England.
Jordan Henderson is the greatest injury concern for England’s latest World Cup face-off, but his tight hamstring isn’t said to be serious enough to rule him out of the Croatia game yet. If that were the case Eric Dier or Fabian Delph would be the main candidates to fill his role in centre-midfield. In better news for the Three Lions, Jamie Vardy will return to England’s bench having already sat out Saturday’s win against Sweden. Gareth Southgate is expected to retain his faith the team that brought England its first World Cup semi-final in 28 years.
Despite playing until a penalty shootout in their last two games against Denmark and Russia, Croatia’s squad is in reasonably good nick. Only Sime Vrsaljko, their first choice right-back, has been ruled out of the game after limping off the pitch in the 97th minute Saturday’s eventual victory. The Atletico Madrid player is expected to be replaced in his position by Domagoj Vida, who’s played centre-back with Dejan Lovren for the tournament so far. Former Tottenham Hotspur player Vedran Corluka is likely to shuffle into the starting line-up to fill the gap.
England and Croatia have met seven times before, with the Three Lions winning four times, losing twice and sharing a draw. But records and stats goes out of the window during these crunch games and Croatia have got that winning mentality in them which can crumble England.