FIFA WORLD CUP 2018 – Croatia vs England PREVIEW
Who would’ve predicted that we’d be seeing this matchup in the Semi Final. A golden opportunity for two nations who haven’t been on this stage in a very long time. For Croatia, this is their first semi final since 1998 and this is another chance to reach their first world cup final. Meanwhile, England have not reached this stage for 28 years and are looking to reach their first world cup final since 1966 in attempts to end the “52 years of hurt”. A game between two teams considered as dark horses before the tournament who are now known as legitimate title contenders. Will Croatia reach their first ever major final or will England get one step closer to bringing football home?
What a crazy, emotional rollercoaster its been for Croatia on their way to the Semi Final. A team who went through the group stages comfortably, but has already been through two penalty shootouts and you’d have to say mentally this team must be absolutely drained already. Croatia have shown very strong mental strength in this tournament by overcoming so much adversity, something this golden generation has lacked over the recent tournaments but that is now the past and they are in the world cup SEMI FINAL! Now let’s get into how they got here. Croatia, first of all dominated their group picking up 3 wins out of 3 beating Nigeria 2-0, Argentina 3-0 and Iceland 2-1. They won the group by 5 points and played like one of the best teams in the tournament scoring a good amount of goals. However, this type of form didn’t continue in the knockouts. Croatia did not look their best against Denmark or Russia, they had to grind out wins and they’ve done so. Against Denmark, Croatia drew 1-1 but thanks to Subasic masterclass in the penalty shootout in goal Croatia won it 3-2 and advanced to face the hosts. Facing Russia, Croatia truly had a tough game. They trailed, came back took the lead and conceded with 5 minutes to go in extra time therefore facing another penalty shootout after drawing 2-2 and thanks to good penalty conversion, a bit of luck and a terrible miss by Russia’s RB Fernandes, Croatia advanced winning it 4-3.
You’d still have to say Croatia had a very good world cup performance wise overall, it’s just that they hit a bit of blip recently but you can turn that into a positive because even when they haven’t looked their best, they found ways to advance. Croatia’s biggest weakness has been their inability to play well against physical teams which is what they’ve really faced in Denmark and Russia. Two tough physical, gritty type of teams who have caused Croatia problems, you can even add Iceland to that list as it was their toughest group game. England is a bit more of a flair team which could enable Croatia to go out and play their game, but the only question is do they still have the legs to do so after playing two 120 minute games? You’d have to say Croatia’s biggest worry has to be heavy legs.
It’s been a fun, emotional ride for England so far. They have also had to deal with a penalty shootout on their way, but they did their job in the knockouts in a much calmer way in general. England have reached their first semi final since 1990 and are looking to reach their second ever final and first since 1966 which they’ve won. England were considered as outside contenders before the tournament, however they have now turned themselves into favourites to reach the final and this incredible ride has given fans hope that the 50+ years of hurt will end. England’s road to the semi final has been quite an interesting one. First of all they finished second in the group behind Belgium and above Tunisia and Panama. England beat Tunisia 2-1 in their opener with a last minute winner, then beat Panama 6-1 and in the final game lost 0-1 to Belgium in a game where both sides played their B team because it didn’t have much meaning, although for England that loss enabled them to enter the weaker side of the bracket which has helped them massively advancing with favourable draws and not having to play any big teams so far. However the knockout round was in no way easy. In R16, England were taken to penalties by Colombia after drawing 1-1 and even trailed the shootout, but a missed pen and an incredible save by Pickford put England in position to win and Dier finished the last pen giving England the 4-3 win on Pens. That game was a true mental breaker because not only England overcame a last minute equaliser, but they still managed to find a way by winning in a penalty shootout which is something they have had huge problems with historically. In the quarters, England weirdly enough had a very calm afternoon. They totally dominated Sweden beating 2-0. There was a few danger moments, but Pickford literally saved everything. England made it a very calm quarter final and this is how they advanced to their first semi final in 28 years.
England’s biggest strength is set piece play. Out of the 11 goals that England have scored, 8 have been from set pieces (5 corners and 3 penalties). Their tall powerful centre backs Maguire and Stones have been extremely effective attacking corners. Furthermore, Harry Kane has been in fantastic form, he’s only failed to score in one game, his total tally has been 6 goals in 4 games that he played and he’s the top scorer. Another strength that England have shown is their wingers. Lingard and Sterling have caused a lot of problems with their movement around the pitch, we saw that especially against Sweden when their pace alone just caused a lot of problems for Sweden and it opened up the game for England. Although Sterling hasn’t shown great form himself, the running that he does has been a huge key for England to open up the play for others. And finally, Jordan Pickford has been absolutely amazing in goal. He’s shown incredible form in the knockouts especially after a shaky start and against Sweden he was simply unbeatable. England don’t really have many huge weaknesses during this tournament. One weakness you could point out is their defending from set pieces ironically. 3 of the 4 goals they conceded came from set pieces, 2 of those being a goal from a cross from a corner and a free kick. As great as they are scoring from set pieces, most of their goals have been conceded from the same thing. Another worry would have to be is lack of playing a big team. Belgium doesn’t really count because both sides played B teams as mentioned so Colombia is the toughest opponent England have faced and James Rodriguez didn’t even feature. Croatia will be the first side that England will face who have world class players and it will be a great test for England. Other than those little weaknesses, England have been great in this tournament and are rightly favoured to reach the final.
Tactically we’re going to see two teams who like to play on the front foot. Let’s begin with Croatia. Croatia are a possession based team, kind of like Spain they dominate the game with their world class midfield with Modric and Rakitic mainly running it. Croatia are a more direct side than Spain however, they will attempt to make that killer pass more often than just passing around and playing tiki taka. In terms of team news, Croatia are very likely to miss their right back Vrsaljko who will likely get replaced by Corluka who will move to CB and move Vida to Vrsaljko’s position. The keys for Croatia is if Vida actually does play as full back, they can’t allow him being left on the island against Sterling or Lingard because he’ll get absolutely destroyed as he lacks pace and he’s naturally a centre back. Croatia must try to win this avoiding a penalty shootout because let’s be honest the odds would not be on their side to win a 3rd straight penalty shootout plus playing 120 minutes again could probably cause more injuries and tiredness for this team. They can’t come out looking tired in this game too because England will punish Croatia for it. Croatia must attempt to run the midfield and try to nullify England’s pace as much as possible and they can’t look tired as mentioned of course.
England also like to play attacking football, but they’re more of a direct team than Croatia. England tend to open teams up thanks to their pass and move play. England are very good at passing and movement in this tournament, especially with Sterling and Lingard on the wings because their pace has caused massive problems for opponents as we’ve seen throughout and we will most likely see them do that against Croatia in trying to cause full backs problems, especially if Vida plays on the side. England only have one actual CM that starts with 3 centre backs in behind which enables them to play 4 attack minded players going forward and that system has worked really well, it allows the wing backs to join attacks too which means England attack as a 6 sometimes and then defends as a 5, sometimes 6 when Henderson drops back. They’re just a very well organised side who will attack in numbers and defend in numbers. In terms of team news everybody is fit and healthy for England and they have no suspensions so we can expect them to play their main team. The keys in winning for England are they must exploit the pace factor. England have quick attackers coming up against a slower side, pretty much like against Sweden and the wingers must continue to keep making those runs to collapse defenders to open up play. England must continue to be a threat from set pieces while at the same time they can’t be shaky defending them. England must take away freedom from Modric and Rakitic especially, these midfielders must be closed down at all times because with given space they’ll punish England. If England can shutout Croatian midfielders and use their pace to the advantage against a team who are likely going to be more tired then they will win, and they could do it quite comfortably.
We’ll give England the win in this battle. Croatia have really looked on the brink of elimination in these knockouts and eventually they just have to run out of luck and lose. Can’t see them overcoming England especially having played two 120 minute matches and two penalty shootouts, we just think they will be physicially and mentally drained out. Vrsaljko most likely being out is a huge factor because Vida fitting in on the side will be something we’d expect England to exploit. England are just in general playing better football right now, they’re quicker, more fluid and have played better recently. England have peaked at the right time and they should pick up the win against Croatia. We’ll give England a 2-1 win.
ODDS – Decimal
Croatia Win (90 mins) – 3.60
Draw (90 mins) – 3.10
England Win (90 mins) – 2.35
To Qualify – Croatia 2.30 – England 1.61
KICK OFF – 11th July 2018 – 7pm UK Time