After France toppled Belgium to confirm their place in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final last night, only one more spot is vacant and it will be contested by two underdogs: England and Croatia. At the start of the tournament, neither would’ve been given a hope of reaching the final, but through fortune and ability, they’ve managed to put their names in the running. Which of the two is going to face off against the French this weekend?
Kane v Lovren: These two will have seen a lot of each other when their respective Tottenham and Liverpool sides have clashed in the Premier League. Kane is a prolific scorer for club and country, while Lovren tends to have hot and cold patches when it comes to his performances. He’ll have to track Kane carefully, and if he manages to shut him out of the game, he’ll have neutralised England’s biggest goal threat.
Rebic v Young: Rebic has been one of the tournament’s outstanding wide players, having done a great job of terrorising Russia’s left flank in the previous round. Ashley Young is a converted wing-back that’s getting on in years, so he’s unlikely to be looking forward to a younger winger bombing up his side. If Young fails to contain Rebic, a lot of quality crosses will be finding their way to Mandzukic in the box.
Henderson/Alli v Modric/Rakitic: In Modric and Rakitic (playing for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively), Croatia have probably the best central midfield pairing in this tournament. All the creative play goes through them – something that likely Henderson and Alli will be tasked with disrupting, but the tracking of Modric and Rakitic will detract from the English midfield’s ability to enjoy any open space.
Predicted Line Ups:
England: Pickford, Walker, Maguire, Stones, Trippier, Lingard, Henderson, Alli, Young, Sterling, Kane.
Croatia: Subasic, Vrasjlko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Modric, Rakitic, Rebic, Kovacic, Perisic, Manduzkic.
Even though England have a team full of decent performers who play for the Premier League’s best clubs, their young squad is going to need to play with discipline and maturity that may be beyond their years. Croatia, on the other hand, have a set of experienced winners in Modric, Rakitic, and Mandzukic that will lend their side a lot of confidence going up against England. A boost for the English will be Croatia’s level of fatigue after having taken both their previous matches into extra time, meaning England will likely have a bit more energy and could use that to good effect over 90 minutes.
Creating opportunities for Harry Kane to score from will be England’s achilles heel in this match, which puts a lot of pressure on Sterling, Lingard, or Alli to break through the Croatian defence and midfield to tee up Kane. Confidence will be high after England beat Sweden, but Croatia will be their sternest test since they played Belgium in the group stages. The English quality is there, but they’ll need to perform at a level well above what they’ve shown for over two decades if they’re truly going to bring football home.
Predicted Result: England 1 – 0 Croatia