The Three Lions of England are billed to book their first World Cup final spot for the first time in 52 years. The buzz around England is heavy and the media is gearing up for a possible final clash with France, who qualified yesterday against Belgium. However, England will have to face Croatia first.
England are slight favourites to win this tie, not based on quality but based on fitness, youth, physical abilities and set-piece strength. England have cruised so far to the semis with seemingly comfortable ties in the group and knockout stages, and they have a good reason to believe “football is coming home”. The pace of Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling, and Dele Alli can be used to stretch the ageing and fatigued Croatian midfield. Tournament top goalscorer Harry Kane will also be looking to add to his goal tally of six to power England to the World Cup final.
Croatia, on the other hand, have a better squad in terms of quality and are expected to dominate the midfield with the pairing of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic. They have decent experienced players across the pack but they have been forced into extra time in their last two knockout games, which adds to about 60 extra minutes. The physical and mental fatigue of their last two penalty shootouts is expected to wane on them – however, they cannot be overlooked. I am also slightly concerned about Dejan Lovren’s weakness around Harry Kane.
I had a feeling inside of me that England will get to the semi-final of the World Cup but I believe their luck is out (not to discredit their performances, but only an overly idealistic person will disagree that England have had it easy).
I believe Croatia will defeat England 2-0 and their quality over England will be glaring today, but I certainly will not be surprised if England nicks a victory.
- Both teams have met once before at a major tournament – England won 4-2 in a group stage match at Euro 2004.
- This will be their eighth meeting overall; England have won four times, Croatia twice, with one draw.
- Croatia’s last victory against England was the infamous “Wally with the Brolly” match which Croatia won 3-2 at Wembley in November 2007 to end England’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008.
- Six of the previous seven games have also been played on a Wednesday.
- Croatia are playing in their second World Cup semi-final after a last four appearance in their tournament debut in 1998.
- They reached the semi-finals via a penalty shootout victory in the last 16 against Denmark and the quarter-final against Russia. The only other team to win two shootouts in a single World Cup were Argentina in 1990 (against Yugoslavia and Italy).
- Their only defeat in six World Cup knockout matches was against France in the 1998 semi-final.
- That is Croatia’s only defeat in eight World Cup matches against European opposition (W5, D2).
- Only three of the 10 goals they have scored have been via set-pieces – the others have all been from open play.
- However, three out of the four goals that they have conceded have been from set-pieces.
- They are unbeaten in their last nine competitive games since losing 1-0 to Turkey in September 2017.
- The Croats have had eight different scorers at this World Cup; only Belgium with nine have had more.
- This is England’s third World Cup semi-final following their 2-1 win over Portugal in 1966 and their penalty shootout defeat to West Germany in 1990.
- The Three Lions have lost their last three semi-finals at major tournaments (Euro 96 v Germany, 1990 World Cup v West Germany and Euro 68 v Yugoslavia).
- England’s current haul of 11 goals has equalled their highest total at a World Cup, set in 1966.
- After losing three consecutive World Cup games, England have lost just one of their last six (W3, D2).
- England have not beaten two European nations in a single World Cup since 1982, when they beat Czechoslovakia and France.
- They have lost just two of their last 30 competitive matches (W22, D6) since losing their first two matches at the 2014 World Cup.
- Eight of England’s 11 goals have been scored via set-pieces – the most in a single World Cup since Portugal in 1966.
- Four of their goals have come via corners. The last three teams to score four or more goals from corners at a World Cup have gone on to win it – Germany in 2014, Italy in 2006 and France in 1998.
- England’s tally of five different scorers is their joint-most in a tournament along with 1954, 1998 and 2002.
- Harry Kane is the World Cup’s top scorer with six goals. At the previous nine World Cups, only Ronaldo (eight for Brazil in 2002) has scored more. No European player has scored seven goals at a single World Cup since Poland’s Grzegorz Lato got seven in 1974, while no European player has scored eight since Gerd Muller hit 10 for West Germany in 1970.
SOURCE: BBC SPORT