England are 90 minutes away from a second World Cup final but in order to get there they must beat Croatia in the second semi-final of the tournament in Moscow on Wednesday evening. France await the winners in Sunday’s final.
England have come through their part of the draw with confidence and assurance while Croatia have had their nerves tested to the full having seen both of their matches in the knockout stages go all the way to penalties.
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After looking the business in the group stage we have seen Croatia really labour to the point that they have struggled for the most part in the knockout stages. To be fair to them they have held their nerve when it has come to the lottery of the penalty shootout on two occasions but they will be eager to avoid that situation again.
The Croatians have one of the classiest midfields in the competition but it is becoming something of a concern that they have failed to open up Denmark and Russia in their previous two matches. A bigger concern is the lack of genuine quality at either end of the pitch with Mario Mandzukic having faded as the tournament has gone on and a defence that looks like it could be exposed.
England had to come through penalties themselves in their first match of the knockout stages but they took so much more from that than just winning a shootout. They then went into the quarter final against Sweden where they gave their best performance of the tournament thus far and one of their best in years in a major competition.
England have looked dynamic and creative in attacking areas right throughout the tournament. The doubt about them came in defensive areas with the biggest concern over whether their goalkeeper was good enough for this level. He has shown in both the penalty shootout and the quarter final that he is and the longer Gareth Southgate’s men remain in this competition, the better they look and the fewer weaknesses they appear to be carrying.
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Croatia have already confirmed they will be without their right-back Sime Vrsaljko who has been ruled out with a knee injury. Danijel Subasic was trying to convince everyone he was injured in the previous game but there was nothing wrong with him so he should feature here.
England manager Gareth Southgate confirmed on the eve of the match that all 23 players in his squad are fit for the contest. That could well see England going in with an unchanged side from the one which beat Sweden last Saturday.
I like England in this match. Everything I’ve seen from them would suggest to me that they are getting better whereas the more I watch Croatia the more I can’t get away from feeling that they peaked against Argentina in the group stage of the competition. The other reason for liking England is they are a young, fresh, dynamic group of players unlike the Croatians who are aging in key areas and looked out on their feet at the end of their quarter final just four days ago. This England side look ready to embrace the occasion and their opportunity and their fresher legs can win this.
A key man for England on the night is going to be Raheem Sterling. The longer this competition goes on the better the positions he is getting himself into are. He could have bagged twice against Sweden but I don’t think his chances have ended there and against a tired and aging Croatia defence I’m expecting the Manchester City star to be a big man for the Three Lions. He is 8/1 to score first in the game and 7/2 to score at any time. Both are worth an investment.
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