World Cup Semifinal Prediction – Croatia vs. England Preview
The 2018 FIFA World Cup seems to have breezed by, and we’re already just one step from the final. The final 4 teams in the tournament are all from Europe, though some of them aren’t necessarily teams many expected to be here. Germany, Spain and Portugal have all gone home. This particular matchup is certainly out of left field. England haven’t won a World Cup since 1966, while Croatia have never done so.
These sides have benefited from playing on the “easier” side of the bracket, but there hasn’t been anything easy about their paths thus far. Croatia have had to endure back-to-back extra time affairs that ended in penalty kicks against Denmark and Russia. England did get a solid 2-0 result against Sweden in the last round, but they were taken to the brink by an undermanned Colombia side in the round of 16. The Three Lions needed penalties to get past a Colombia side missing James Rodriguez.
Still, they’ve both managed to get this far. At this point, England may have a physical and a mental advantage. Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic was battling an issue late in the win over Russia, but he is expected to be fit and ready to play in the semifinal. However, the Croatian side will be without influential defender Sime Vrsaljko, who will be replaced by Vedran Corluka. Corluka is a fine player in his own right, but Vrsalko has been one of the standout defenders of the tournament.
England will enter this game healthy and having played 30 fewer minutes than their opponents. Marcelo Brozovic is fully expected to return to Croatia’s starting XI, which is necessary given the mileage on the legs of the other players in the middle of the park. Luka Modric, who turns 33 in a few months, has already logged 485 minutes at this World Cup. Ivan Rakitic isn’t far behind with 428. The England midfield trio of Jordan Henderson (385), Jesse Lingard (363) and Dele Alli (238) is considerably more well-rested.
That said, the Croatian attack will put England’s defensive mettle to the test. The Three Lions haven’t had to deal with an attack of the quality of Croatia thus far. Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic figure to be heavily involved down both flanks, which will test both Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire defensively.
Opposing defenses have had success in keeping Modric pinned toward the back of the midfield. If Modric isn’t able to play in an advanced position, Croatia’s creativity with the ball is lacking considerably. The Croatian captain is still talented enough to put his stamp on the game from any position, but England would do well to keep him from advancing too far up the pitch. That responsibility will likely lie on the shoulders of Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli.
With a pair of quality midfields going toe-to-toe, the result of this one could be determined by which team enjoys more possession. Forcing Modric to exert himself defensively is a key for England, especially since he figures to be somewhat fatigued at this stage of the tournament. England’s combination of youth and relative freshness should prove problematic for an older Croatian side.
Croatia have been a tough side to break down thus far, but they haven’t faced a particularly daunting opponent since advancing beyond the group stage. The opposing Denmark attack was largely punchless outside of Christian Eriksen, while Russia were a side that didn’t exactly feature many household names.
Harry Kane is the kind of brutish striker that won’t wear down against physical defenders like Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida. Kane has already bagged 6 goals for himself at this tournament, and the Spurs man will be eager to continue his push for the Golden Boot.
If Croatia had been able to dispose of Russia in the regular 90 minutes, I would be quite a bit more bullish on their chances in this one. Zlatko Dalic’s side has clearly been the most pleasant surprise at this event, but I think this is where their run comes to a close.
England do have a lengthy history of bottling things when it appears as though they should be able to get through fairly easily, so never doubt the team’s chances of coming up short. Still, they have just about everything going in their favor here today. Croatia are a side that won’t go down without a fight, but this one looks like England’s to win. Blowing this chance would truly prove disastrous for English soccer moving forward.
I think England will be moving on to the final, so take the Three Lions at +135 on the moneyline.
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