NIZHNIY NOVGOROD, RUSSIA - JUNE 24: Dele Alli, Harry Kane of England celebrate the victory following the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group G match between England and Panama at Nizhniy Novgorod Stadium on June 24, 2018 in Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
One more win. That is all it will take for England to be in a World Cup final for the first time since 1966 when they won the competition. The nation has hit a fever pitch, the players are confident, but can the Three Lions book their ticket to Sunday’s final?
It is an opportunity the country has not had since 1990. Love set the World in Motion that year, but in 2018 the cries of “It’s coming home” are ringing across the nation. What started out for many as a joke has actually become a belief for many. There is a genuine feeling that England could go all the way and win the World Cup, and that is a first for many people.
Confidence is at an all time high for not only the fans, but the team too. England took care of Sweden without many issues thanks to headed goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli. The Three Lions have scored more than any team from set pieces in this tournament and that will strike fear into the opposition. Three excellent saves from Jordan Pickford meant that Gareth Southgate’s side kept their first clean sheet of the tournament too as England booked their place in the last four.
However, this Croatia side are a different beast and the best team England has faced thus far. Despite being largely uninspiring against Russia, they managed to silence the host nation with a penalty shootout win after a tense 2-2 draw after extra time. That was the second straight match Croatia have won on penalties after drawing with Denmark in the last 16.
There will be questions surrounding the fitness of the Croats after going 120 minutes for two straight games, but that should not be the focus. This is a side that has a lot of quality and possesses arguably the best centre midfield partnership in the tournament.
Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are both proven world class midfielders who if allowed will run the game. Both players have a great range of passing, both players can make runs from midfield, and both have a goal in them too.
On the wings Ivan Perisic is a huge danger man and Ante Rebic has been one of Croatia’s best players in the tournament thus far. Mario Mandzukic is a scrappy forward who is dangerous in the air and can draw fouls from defenders. In short he is a handful and England will have to be careful with how they deal with him.
Unlike England, Croatia are unbeaten in this tournament and you could say more battle tested after coming through a tougher group and playing two very close matches that went the distance. But their players may struggle if the game goes beyond 90 minutes.
These two sides have met five times competitively with England leading the head to head 3-2. The last time they met was in qualification for the World Cup in 2010 where the Three Lions ran out 5-1 winners. That was before this generation of Croatian and English players blossomed however, so there should not be too much stock put into that.
Both teams should be able to field a full strength side when they meet on Wednesday with no injury concerns to report for their previous starting XIs.
Croatia are with a doubt the best side England have faced so far, and the Three Lions will have to raise their level to beat them. The draw has opened up for England in a way nobody could have imagined, but this is the first 50/50 match-up they have played in the knockout stages. England were slight favourites against Colombia without James Rodriguez and quite frankly they should have beaten Sweden. This one is not so simple.
Many will have seen Croatia’s last two matches and think they are not all that, but to be frank it is difficult to look good against teams that sit back and put their focus on defence. England will be more open than Denmark and Russia which will give space to Modric and Rakitic to run the game from midfield.
Croatia will probably control the ball and that is something England have not faced in the tournament so far. They will be threatening and will have Southgate’s men on the back-foot for a longer period time than they have been accustomed to in Russia.
I think under normal circumstances, Croatia are a slightly better team than England and would beat them, but there is something about this World Cup. It almost feels like it is destiny for England to make the final, it feels written in the stars.
It will be tight and it will be tough, but I have this feeling that England will sneak through this one. They may concede possession to the Croatians, however the threat from set pieces can not be ignored and after a tense 120 minutes, the Three Lions will edge their way through to Sunday’s final on penalties.
Prediction: England 1-1 Croatia AET. England win on penalties
England face Croatia in Moscow for a place in the World Cup final on Wednesday June 10th at 19:00 BST
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