Last night, France moved into their third World Cup Final with a 1-0 win over Belgium in the first of the two World Cup Semifinal matches. Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti’s header, with the aid of a deflection off Marouane Fellaini, was enough to break the deadlock of what was an otherwise very evenly contested game with Belgium.
However, in the UK, the fact that France made it through is merely incidental because the country has once again gone football crazy. The reason for that is simple, in tonight’s second semifinal, Croatia will take on Gareth Southgate’s England team with the winners moving on to Sunday’s final in Moscow to take on the French.
England headed to Russia this summer with generally low expectations, despite qualifying from their group relatively comfortably. After Sam Allardyce was removed from the post of England manager after just one World Cup qualifier (a 1-0 away win over Slovenia, thanks to a late Adam Lallana strike), Gareth Southgate took the helm and steered England to top spot in the group to earn a place at Russia.
However, England’s squad this summer didn’t look as strong as other squad’s England have sent to previous World Cup finals. It was also a very young squad that Southgate selected with several more experienced stars either retiring from international football (Wayne Rooney), not selected (Jack Wilshere, Joe Hart) or either lacking fitness or being injured (Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain).
Indeed, of all the 32 finalists, the average age of the England squad was the lowest of all the teams present in Russia.
While the Three Lions were expected to make it opast the group stage, chiefly due to a favourable draw which paired England with Belgium, but also the relative World Cup minnows of Tunisia and Panama, there was a general belief that England would then lose out either in the Round of 16 or at best in the quarterfinals. Indeed the general feeling in the country was, especially after losing so shambolically to Iceland in Euro 2016, that a quarterfinal spot would represent a decent World Cup for the young squad.
Russian Results see Belief Grow
England got off to a crucial opening game win with Harry Kane’s last minute winner enough to defeat Tunisia 2-1. They then thrashed Panama 6-1 to ensure that they would qualify for the Round of 16. A defeat against Belgium, while disappointing, had the bonus of offering England a potentially easier route into the latter stages of the competition.
Belief in England began to increase when they won a penalty shootout, their first in World Cup history, against Colombia and then with Sweden lying in wait, England produced a solid display to defeat the Swedes 2-0 and move into the semifinals. By now public opinion was that the World Cup was “coming home” and that England could do the unthinkable and even win the trophy.
However, standing in the way of that is the formidable shape of Croatia.
Croatia’s World Cup Story
Croatia qualified for the latter stages of the tournament in superb fashion by winning all three of their group games. First they defeated Nigeria 2-0, then produced one of the performances of the finals to defeat Argentina 3-0 in their second game. They then rested several key players for the third game, having already qualified for the Round of 16, but still produced a performance good enough to beat Iceland 2-1 to finish top of the group with maximum points.
Things have been tougher in the knockout stage though. First they drew 1-1 with Denmark and the game went into extra time and penalties, which Croatia then won 3-2 after keeper Subasic produced three fine stops from the spot. A dramatic quarterfinal with Russia ensued and this also went to penalties after a 2-2 draw following extra time and once again Rakitic was on hand to slot home the decisive penalty to eliminate the hosts and send Croatia through.
Croatia do boast a much older and more experienced squad than England and they will have played more football having been taken to extra time and penalties twice in the tournament so far. They have world class midfielders in the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, but they also have some weaknesses, particularly in defence where the likely absence of full back Sime Vrsaljko will be a blow, meaning a reshuffle at the back for the game with England.
How have the teams fared in the past?
England and Croatia have met 7 times previously and England have had the better of things winning four games to Croatia’s two with just one draw between the nations:
- 1996 – Friendly – England 0-0 Croatia
- 2003 – Friendly – England 3-1 Croatia
- 2004 – Euro 2004 – Croatia 2-4 England
- 2006 – Euro 2008 Qualifier – Croatia 2-0 England
- 2007 – Euro 2008 Qualifier – England 2-3 Croatia
- 2008 – World Cup 2010 Qualifier – Croatia 1-4 England
- 2009 – World Cup 2010 Qualifier – England 5-1 Croatia
Croatia v England Team News
England have a fully fit squad and no suspensions to worry about for the game with Croatia after both Jordan Henderson and Jamie Vardy reported themselves fit for the game following slight niggles. Croatia will likely be without the injured Sime Vrsaljko, which means that Vedran Corluka will likely deputise, although there are rumours that he could slot into central defence alongside Dejan Lovren, with Domagoj Vida pushed out into a full-back role.
Probable Croatia XI – (4-2-3-1) – Subasic (Gk), Vida (Dr), Strinic (Dl), Corluka (Dc), Lovren (Dc), Modric (Mc), Rakitic (Mc), Kramaric (AMc), Perisic (AMr), Rebic (AMl), Mandzukic (Ac)
Probable England XI (5-3-2 wingbacks) – Picford (Gk), Walker (Dc), Stones (Dc), Maguire (Dc), Trippier (DMr), Young (DMl), Henderson (DMc), Alli (Mc), Lingard (AMc), Sterling (Ac), Kane (Ac)
Croatia v England – Main Tactical Battles
There are three areas of the pitch where this game will be won and lost. The first is in midfield where England’s trio of Alli, Lingard and Henderson are going to need to be able to defend in numbers when Croatia have the ball to stop the influence of Modric and Rakitic. If England can do this, as Russia and Denmark have, then their chances of winning the game increase massively.
Also England’s wide players Trippier and Young will need to be on the lookout for the fast breaks of Croatia’s wide men Perisic and Rebic, who both have lots of pace and who if left unmarked could cause England problems.
However, Croatia defensively will have their hands full dealing with the pace of Sterling and the goal threat of Kane, add to that support from midfield by Alli and Lingard, plus the threat from set pieces and England have more than enough attacking threat to pose Croatia significant problems throughout the game.
Our Tips for Croatia v England
- England to win inside 90 minutes – 27/20 with Bet365
- Both Teams to Score – Yes – 21/20 with Bet365
- Harry Kane to score at any time – 5/4 with Bet365