England vs Croatia
World Cup-Semi Final
Luzhniki Stadium/ Moscow
2 PM ET, July 11, 2018, Wednesday
Line: England +135 Croatia +205
FREE FIFA World Cup pick England vs Croatia
Nobody could have predicted a World Cup semi-final between England and Croatia a month ago. Both squads were seen as dark-horses that just didn’t possess the same quality as the likes of Brazil or Spain, for example. Croatia has been carried by the play of their captain, veteran midfielder Luka Modric. He’s been excellent throughout this tournament and a real inspiration to the rest of his teammates. Croatia came into this summer’s World Cup boasting some of the most talented players at the tournament, but their recent record on the biggest stage left them quite far down the list of potential winners. The Croatians began this tournament on fire, easily cruising through a tough group stage, but since then they’ve needed penalties just to get by relative weaklings in Denmark and Russia. In both matches, they were the second-best side for long stretches, and despite their talent up top – they can’t seem to generate the chances they should be getting. Much of that comes down to a real lack of a pure scorer at the striker position. Mario Mandzukic used to be that, but it is now clear that his best days are behind him. Croatia’s strength lies in their extra-terrestrial midfield talent led by their gem Luka Modric. Modric has just been phenomenal and has leader in every sense. Ivan Rakitic is as cool as ice along Modric and their styles have just added more glitz to this already glittering midfield. The defence has been resilient and concrete. Domangoj Vida has been one of the most influential players at the back. The full backs- Sime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic have been contributing at the back and raiding through the flanks effectively well. Sadly for Croatia Vrsaljko is a major doubt and looks to miss the all-important semi-final after picking up a knee injury in the last game. Danijel Subasic has been the keeper of the tournament so far, but had to play the penalty-shootout against Russia as a wounded warrior after picking up a hamstring injury earlier in that game. However, he looks fit and should start between the sticks for Croatia. In front of goal Croatia have had problems, Mandzukic’s lack of goals has put burden on fresh players like Ante Rebic and Andrej Kramaric to supply goals and create something decisive in the final third. Croatia needs to cut short the passes delivered to Harry Kane and move ahead swiftly without losing the ball. Croatia are a very interesting side on paper but it will take more than just efforts to overcome a highly confident English side.
World Cup fever has well and truly gripped the English nation and fans, players and pundits alike will have been wishing for Wednesday night to come around from the moment the final whistle went in the quarter-final win over Sweden on Saturday. The semi-final against Croatia will be the biggest match in English football for 28 years, since they last reached the semi-finals at Italia 1990. Indeed, some may argue that it is the biggest game since the 1966 final considering how the draw has opened up for them. For England, their path is even more shocking. Manager Gareth Southgate picked a very young squad, one that likely wouldn’t contend in Russia, but would be ready for better things in 2022. However, this squad has been much better than expected and the youth movement within the camp has worked wonders so far. England have a nice blend of size, skill, and speed – and even though their path has been relatively comfortable, they too realize this could be the chance of a lifetime despite it being the first World Cup appearance for so many of their players. England’s defensive record in this tournament has been excellent. Rarely have they allowed a goal from open play, and they really limited the Swedish chances in the quarter-finals. When he was tested, keeper Jordan Pickford was excellent in goal – and as a whole right now, Gareth Southgate has his squad playing a complete brand of football. English enter with a big advantage is with their speed and pace of play. When they do have the ball, look for them to steer it out wide to active their wing-backs as much as possible. Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier have both been excellent in that position, and are very dangerous going forward. Their pace and skill could give the Croatian defenders fits, and allow more space for England’s dangerous finishers like Harry Kane in the box, or Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard through the midfield. Moreover, Raheem Sterling has been doing everything but score for the Three Lions. He still looks creative and quick, and you have to think he should be able to find one breakthrough against the Croatians on Wednesday. England have finesse and inventiveness in attack to cause damage to Croatian defence. Although Croatia might control the midfield and the match for greater parts, English defence has enough vigor and strength to see them out. The Three Lions have already broken records galore at this tournament, though, and if they can end the semi-final hoodoo which has seen England lose their last three at major tournaments then they will etch their names even deeper into English football history.One month ago it would have been scarcely believable that England would still be involved in the final week of the World Cup, but the Three Lions are potentially now just 180 minutes away from bringing it home.
Croatia: Andrej Kramaric. Fans of English football may remember Croatian forward Andrej Kramaric or maybe not. Kramaric had a short stint at Leicester City but never looked settled at the King Power stadium. Since then, Kramaric has come on leaps and bounds at Bundesliga side Hoffenheim. He has had a good impact upfront and has formed a deadly pair with Mario Mandzukic.
England: Harry Kane. Harry Kane has been prolific, powerful and has been on a goal scoring spree in the World cup. He leads the Golden Boot race and would want to score to remain on the top. Kane has been top notch in dead ball situations and has ability in air as well. He along with Raheem Sterling will be upfront and their combination is key to England’s attack.
Croatia: Luka Modric. Luka Modric has been an abundant powerhouse of energy, skill and passion. His insane work-rate has led Croatia single-handedly through games and has been deadly with his thunderous right foot. He will be the target man for Croatia and if Croatia are to score or create something it will be through Luka Modric.
England: Raheem Sterling. News has been doing rounds about Sterling’s inability to find back of the net, but what the media has ignored is his contribution to the buildup play. Sterling has been essential to this Southgate’s system. He has taken up more of a creational role and his supply passes in the final third are of top quality. His quick feet and ability to change directions can come handy against Croatia and could finally score his debut World Cup goal.
The Young Gun:
Croatia: Ante Rebic. Rebic has cemented his place in the starting line-up for Croatia at this World Cup. Rebic’s sleek movement and unbelievable efforts are praise worthy. His goal scoring ability were never a doubt but his evolution as a link-up playmaker will surely look fascinating on his resume.
England: Jordan Pickford. Pickford has rose to the occasion and been a wall for the Three Lions. He has rarely looked uncomfortable at the goal line and heaped huge admirations after his impressive display against Sweden and in the penalty shootout against Colombia. Pickford is the one to watch and a stellar performance could attract interests from Europe’s big clubs.
Predicted Line Ups:
Croatia: Subasic; Vida, Lovren, Corluka, Strinic; Rakitic, Rebic, Modric, Perisic; Kramaric, Mandzukic
England: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire; Henderson; Trippier, Lingard, Alli, Young; Sterling, Kane
FREE FIFA World Cup pick Croatia vs England
This match is one of the toughest to call of the tournament. Croatia brings with it an experienced and talented midfield, and one that could given the central midfielders of England some real trouble. That said, it also does seem like these squads are trending in different directions as they approach this match. Croatia have not been at their best in the knockout rounds so far, and they could be forced to go all the way again on Wednesday, which could give England’s slightly fresher legs the edge. It promises to be a hardfought encounter. Expect the Three Lions to keep on roaring right into the World Cup Finals. It may have sounded crazy a month or so ago about this untested and unproven squad, but the future is now for the English. Their young studs are ready, and I anticipate their speed advantage going forward will wear down a tired Croatian group that has played back-to-back extra time matches. This isn’t a squad equipped to handle that level of exertion, and I think the youthful energy of the English carry them onward which would mean an end to Croatia’s majestic World Cup campaign.