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England Croatia WC 2018 Preview
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11 Jul 2018 12:48 PM EST

-by Steve Wright, Staff Writer; Image:England  vs Croatia (Image Source:NDTV)

The second semi-final of the 2018 World Cup takes place in Moscow as England battles Croatia. Croatia has been the penalty kings here in Russia, taking out Denmark on spot kicks after a 1-1 draw in the Round of 16, before ousting the host nation on penalties after a 2-2 quarter-final tie. England also relied on penalties to get through its Round of 16 contest against Colombia, before a fairly comfortable 2-0 win over Sweden in the quarter-finals.

Three Match Facts

  • England and Croatia have met seven times with England holding a four to two advantage in wins. The Three Lions also won the only time the two have met at a major tournament, a 4-2 win at Euro 2004.

  • Croatia is only the second team to ever win two penalty shootouts at a single World Cup. The other was Argentina in 1990.

  • England has lost its last three semi-finals at major tournaments. Euro 96 (Germany), 1990 World Cup (Germany), and Euro 68 (Yugoslavia).

Tournament Outlook

We continue with the knockout action here as England and Croatia will go to extra time and penalties if needed to separate the two sides. The winner of this clash will go on to face either France in the 2018 World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday.

This is the only round of the knockout stage where both teams are guaranteed another game. The loser of the second semi-final will play Belgium in the third place play-off in Saint Petersburg on Saturday.

Three Keys

How tired is Croatia?

The quarter-finals for these two countries went very differently. England barely broke a sweat in seeing off Sweden, controlling the game from the moment that Marry Maguire put them ahead. It was a calm and composed performance, one that saw England retain the ball as well as they ever have in a major tournament setting. When you add in that most of this England side sat out the final group game against Belgium, well it is hard to imagine a side being more rested than England will be at the semi-final stage.

The same cannot be said for Croatia.

The downside of qualifying for the semi-final via two consecutive penalty shootouts is the mental any physical toll it takes on a team. Croatia beat Denmark in a game that they should never have let go the distance, but then they barely survived a Russia team that they are much stronger than on paper.

The tiredness is going to be an issue for Croatia, especially when it is combined with the injuries the side has been picking up. Both fullbacks went down with injuries to the point they had to be subbed off in the Russia game, with Sime Vrsaljko appearing to be out of the semi-final according to reports. England is not a side you want to face with a makeshift defense, as the movement of Raheem Sterling has proven to be a problem for teams all tournament long.

Who wins the set-piece battle?

Much has been made of England’s set-piece ability in Russia, and for good reason. The Three Lions have scored eight of their 11 goals from set-pieces, the most in a single World Cup since Portugal in 1966. Interestingly four of those goals have come from corners and the last three teams to score four or more goals from that particular type of set-piece have won the whole thing. Those three teams were Germany in 2014, Italy in 2006, and France in 1998.

The reason for their set-piece dominance has been the delivery and the ability to attack the ball. Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young have been putting the ball in dangerous positions since the Russian World Cup began, with Maguire seemingly winning everything in the air to create second chance opportunities. With Harry Kane and John Stones also attacking everything that is in the air, England is a nightmare to deal with at set-pieces.

Much of this is due to work done on the training ground by Gareth Southgate. You can see the England team lining up before the ball is swung in, while is devastating to teams running a zonal marking scheme. All it takes it one player switching off to give the Three Lions a chance.

Interestingly, Croatia has a serious attacking threat from corners too. Mario Mandzukic is the specific player to watch as the Juventus front man has the size and ability in the air to cause England problems. Watch for Maguire to be tasked with marking Mandzukic on corners, with the big Croatian defenders being picked up by other players with less giant heads.

Can Luka Modric dictate the pace of the game?

If Croatia is to win then Modric will need a huge game. The strength of this team is in central midfield, with Modric being maybe the best all-around midfielder in the world, and with Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic being only a small margin behind him.

Modric controlled the ball for much of the game against Russia, but his influence waned as fatigue hit in, with him almost being invisible in the second half of extra time. One of the issues in that game was that Croatia didn’t deploy a defensive midfielder, meaning that Modric spent too much time chasing the ball. The other problem is that Modric and Rakitic want to fulfill the same kind of role, with neither being willing runners off of the ball and instead coming close to demand the ball to feet.

England knows about this sort of problem first hand after coaches for years tried to shoehorn Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard into the same midfield. The Croatian midfield just doesn’t feel as balanced as it should be, and that is why Modric hasn’t controlled games like he would have been expected to in Russia.

England will likely sit Jordan Henderson on Modric, asking the ever improving Liverpool player to break up the play. If Henderson does a job on Mordic, then Croatia will find it hard to give Mandzukic the service he thrives on.

 

 

 

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