The 2018 World Cup is nearing its end, and together with it is the much-awaited final. However, before reaching that point, two teams first need to dominate the semi-finals. One of the most-awaited matchups is between England and Croatia.
These two sides had been huge underdogs before the competition started. But they defied the odds and proved to the world that they’ve got what it takes to become the best team in the football world.
Now, the Englishmen are going to face the Croatians for a slot to the final. We all knew how England dominated Sweden during the quarterfinal. It was a 2-0 victory over the hopeful Swedes, thanks to Harry Maguire and Dele Alli.
Meanwhile, Croatia had been lucky enough to remove Russia out of the contest after defeating them with a penalty kick. The score was 2-2 and the penalties 3-4, in favor of the Croatians.
It was a dramatic game for the Croatians as they crushed any Russian hope of making it big this time around.
England is ranked number 12 in the rankings, while Croatia is at the number 20 seed. Despite this, the two teams had been exceptional throughout the World Cup, which led most critics to assume that the outcome of their matchup would be unpredictable.
However, it’s worth noting that even though England has the superstar Harry Kane with them, Croatia remains unbeaten. This is a huge hint that the semis might turn out in Croatia’s favor, knowing that England had already incurred one loss during their game against Belgium.
Then again, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to turn out that way.
Speaking of the betting game, England is the favorite to win the matchup with +135 odds. Meanwhile, Croatia has +230 underdog odds. England also has +165 odds for two-way play betting while Croatia got +135 odds.
There’s also this over-under betting of two for the total goals scored. This means that it’s going to be a defensive game, knowing how the two teams play.
It’s expected by most analysts that Kane will be the highlight of this game especially that he’s vying for the Golden boot this year. Having made six goals in the World Cup, there’s no doubt that he’s going to make another one or two in the upcoming matchup.
What's, even more, is that his legacy lies in the balance. It's his make or break moment, so to speak. The semi-final is the time when stars should go all-out to increase their value once the next season kicks in.
It’s also worth noting that another penalty victory might again happen. Though it’s still unclear as to who will take the penalty victory, it’s most likely that if a penalty game does happen, then it would be won by Croatia.
The Croatian team had won a number of their previous games through penalties. First was their game against Denmark where they won 3-2 penalties. Then there was their 3-4 penalty victory against Russia.
With this, it’s safe to expect that the same thing will happen again once they play against England.
Ante Rebic, Luka Modric, and Ivan Perisic are expected to go full-blast once the matchup ensues. Though they might not be in the same caliber as England’s Harry Kane, it’s their teamwork that is expected to make a difference.
England's superior versatility
Gareth Southgate knows how to use his team’s strength pretty well. It’s because of this that they’re able to surprise critics all competition long. What’s different about England is that they don’t have a single strength.
This is because Southgate implements different strategies and plans game after game.
England is also prepared for different situations thanks to their heightened competitiveness in the Premier League. Though oppositions might overcome them early in the game, they can effectively handle it later on.
It’s all about consistency for them, and that’s what might bring them to the final. First off, there’s the great Harry Kane who’s been phenomenal all year round.
Having helped Tottenham Hotspur reach the third spot in the Premier League rankings thanks to his barrage of strikes and assists, one can easily say that he’s got the skills to bring greatness to England.
Not to mention that he’s been in peak form all competition long. Harry Maguire and Kieran Tripper are also doing great in the defensive positions, as so with their fellow midfielders Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard.
The Three Lions are also a young team which makes them agiler, more aggressive, and more energetic than the Croatians.
Some even say that this is England’s most complete and versatile squad since 1990, which also happens to be the last time that the team reached the World Cup semi-final. However, things have changed since then, and this time, things got even better.
England had shown their patience and composed approach since the start of the tournament, which could then help them overcome the increasingly competitive gameplay of the Croatians.
Then again, this depends highly on how Kane will perform, given the fact that he’s highly depended upon by Southgate’s men.
This might come as a disadvantage because of the brewing over-dependence on their talisman, but looking at the bright light, Kane might just serve as their motivation to bring out the best in them.
Croatia's midfield strength
Meanwhile, here’s Croatia who survived arguably the hardest group in the World Cup this year. Surviving two sterns during the knockout stages was a huge feat alone. However, their achievement this World Cup is even made better thanks to midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
Being hailed as one of the biggest underdogs in the tournament is not what any team would like to be. Fortunately, they managed to deal with this, and in the process, solved their issues and strengthened their midfield and attacking lines.
Zlatko Dalic’s side has one of the strongest midfields in the tournament. Well, that's what the Croatian team is known for. It's their spectacular midfielders that help them achieve new heights. Staying organized, composed, and focused on winning is what the Croatian midfield force is best known for.
However, their success depends on their consistency. As long as they remain composed throughout their entire game against the Englishmen, then there would be no doubt they’ll dominate the midfield lines.
The current batch of midfielders for the Croatia team is one of the best it has ever seen.
Leading the pack, considered to be such great assets to the team are Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric, which is a rare feat, as both players, coming from the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Madrid, respectively, are delivering devastating effects to their opposing team.
Aside from them, other great midfielders in the team include Mateo Kovacic, of Real Madrid, Marcelo Brozovic of Milan, and of course, Milan Badeji of Fiorentina.
Southgate managed to be with the England team as they sailed through the qualifying and the finals round, with his team, full of young players managing to make it in second place, which is just behind Belgium for their team.
This was made possible, thanks to a great run during the knockouts. This is the first time since 1990 that the said team managed to make it to the semis of the World Cup.
Much of this success is attributed to Southgate, which comes as a surprise considering that Southgate’s designation as the team’s coach failed to generate much buzz, as it was considered to just be a safe move following the turmoil under their former boss, Sam Allardyce.
Zlatko Dalić, the coach for Team Croatia, was also a pleasant surprise. He took over Croatia after being in Al-Ain in the United Arab Emirates. From there he managed to qualify in the tournament, which is attributed to their win in the playoff versus Greece.
The team was placed in Group D, alongside Nigeria, Argentina, and Iceland, with a lot of spectators expecting to them to make it past the South Americans, but this expectation was exceeded, with a record of 100%, a 3-0 win versus Argentina.
Winning penalty shootouts successively in the knockouts has indeed, let Croatia be on par with the golden generation team, who managed to make it to the semis 20 years ago.
Kane and Lovren’s history
Dejan Lovren, who currently plays center-back has already been up against Harry Kane, as he played against Liverpool. Last October, Liverpool was defeated by Spurs in a 4-1 battle in the English Premier League.
Lovren was tormented by Kane, who managed to score twice, with Lovren being substituted for 31 minutes. A 2-2 draw was achieved since, and Lovren is not at all the type of person who does not live up to a challenge.
His presence in the defense team of Croatia has been one of the strongest and is not one to back out.
Despite that though, Harry Kane is on his way to win the golden boot for this year's World Cup, with six goals, with the previous victory for England in this area being in 1986, and given the long gap is something to look forward to.
Dignitaries from England to be absent
Following a poisoning incident of one of the English spies, of which was blamed on Russia, no dignitaries hailing from England will be expected to come.
Croatia has no problems, however, as Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic would be okay with attending the finals, with him having a strong presence in the team's other matches, wearing the shirt with red and white squares, which has proven to be an iconic symbol for the Croatian Team.
All of this goes to show that politics somehow has a place in this year's World Cup, because the teams themselves are representing their country.
As a matter of fact, some of the world’s leaders are avid fans and followers of the games, with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia seen sitting together in the game of their respective countries, with Russia winning the match with a 5-0.
Aside from the President, Russia’s Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev is joining celebrations in the team’s dressing room.
Luka Modrić’s crucial role in the team
Modrić is one of Croatia’s most important players, given that he has delivered exemplarily, together with Ivan Rakitić. Given that he is tagged as the "midfield magician," who makes the team play well when he plays well.
He is the captain of the country and has managed to score not just one, but two goals in their games versus Nigeria and Argentina, as well as another two shootout success penalties versus Russia and Denmark.
Despite his great performance, he is already 32 and came on the back of Real Madrid’s rather lengthy season, and also came in the midst of a knockout stage that sapped the energy out of Croatia.
This means that the team would have to rely on Modrić heavily, and hence would have to make sure that the team would be in the best of its capabilities.
England might have luck on their side
The team managed to overcome a jinx of the penalty during the top 16 round, where they won versus Colombia, which ultimately led to their victory versus Sweden during the quarters, the team of which, performed dismally.
The journey of England has been a rather smooth one and looking at the World Rankings for FIFA, England could easily make it through the final without having to play a team in the top 15 round, excluding the match versus Belgium, which was a 1-0 loss on their part.
After two extra periods for time and shootouts from penalty, they still have a good shot versus Croatia, but they may be too burned up already. Croatia is eager to take the team on, with their coach insisting that they have still so much energy left in them.
Overall, the match between Croatia and England is going to be an interesting one, with high energy levels from Croatia, and youth of England’s team members. Whichever team is going to win this round would have toface a whole different story the moment they step up versus France or Belgium.
Subscribe to Sport.ONE
Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox