England vs Croatia Match Preview
England’s thrilling World Cup journey continues with a winnable semi-final engagement with Croatia in Moscow on Wednesday.
After the nerve-shredding evening the country had to endure against Colombia, many were prepared for a similarly tense afternoon against Sweden on Saturday.
Yet, as soon as Harry Maguire opened the scoring after half an hour, England never looked like losing the match and that has only given the supporters renewed belief going into our first World Cup semi-final since 1990, and only our third ever.
Wednesday’s opponents boast some classy operators and will likely provide the sternest test the Three Lions have had to face so far but there is plenty of reason to believe that England will be walking out in Moscow on July 15, which is reflected in the 888sport odds that have Southgate’s men at 8/13 on to progress.
Opposition player to watch
English observers will be familiar with the talents of former Tottenham man Modric, who has been among Europe’s elite central midfielders since he joined Real Madrid in 2012.
He has the quality to turn England’s pressing game into an exercise in chasing shadows and the range of passing to exploit the holes that Southgate’s adventurous midfield setup allows.
At Real, he is generally happy to keep matters ticking over, allowing others to get on the scoresheet but he has two goals out in Russia and represents the biggest threat to England’s dreams of a World Cup final.
Raheem Sterling needs a goal
Raheem Sterling missed a presentable chance in the closing stages of Saturday’s first half, laying bare his Achilles heel once more – finishing chances when he has time to think.
That drew him no shortage of criticism online but since then, many journalists and ex-pros have staunchly defended his contribution on the basis that his movement is vital to this England team and his speed troubled Sweden throughout.
It is clear that Sterling is contributing well to Southgate’s side, but a goal here would be the ideal way to silence the critics and for the Manchester City man to truly arrive at this summer’s tournament.
This is a winnable game for England. Croatia will be tired after going through extra time in both their knockout rounds and have laboured against relatively modest opposition in Denmark and hosts Russia.
Aside from midfield, England have more quality all over the pitch. Harry Maguire and co will fancy themselves to stifle the aerial threat of Mario Mandzukic while Dejan Lovren won’t scare Harry Kane.
There is nothing for England to fear but it will still be a tight, tense game because there is simply so much at stake. 2-1 England, to keep football firmly on its journey home.