Just one match separates England from a first World Cup final since 1966, and with the nation starting to believe their own claims that ‘Football’s Coming Home’, a victory over Croatia on Wednesday could be the penultimate step in making that happen.
For a team whose dreams look tantalisingly close to come true after 50 years, Harry Kane and his men wish to do the unimaginable and bring the FIFA World Cup home. But they are facing the dark horse of the tournament, Croatia, that have maintained a winning streak and given us some memorable moments to cherish and remember.
Gareth Southgate’s men would do well to keep these points in mind if they wish to lift the trophy -- as they face Luca Modric and company on 11 July at 11:30 PM.
Pace and Raheem Sterling hold the key
Sterling and Harry Kane complement each other well. Although Kane was not at his best against Sweden, and the attention was on Sterling wasting a clear first-half chance to score, they are ideal playing together to cause problems for Croatia’s centre-backs. Neither Dejan Lovren nor Domagoj Vida have the pace it takes and Sterling running in behind them could be the key to England winning the semi-final.
Sterling easily had an edge over Sweden’s Andreas Granqvist and Victor Lindelof, with his determination to break in behind and pull the defenders out of place. One needs to also remember that Kane gave Lovren a torrid time when Tottenham Hotspur played Liverpool last season and the Croatian ended up being substituted after just half an hour.
3-5-2 might do it
England hasn’t played around much with tactics and formations while Croatia have constantly varied their formations and fiddled with the composition of their team. The 3-5-2 formation might be ideally suited to deal with Croatia, the strength of which lies in the midfield. To make that work, it may be a case of Dele Alli having to do even more defensive graft as he did against Colombia.
Southgate has admitted he has not got the best out of Alli, but he may try and look after Luka Modric who has been the star for Croatia and also one of the stand-out players at this World Cup who needs to be nullified.
England might consider bringing in Fabian Delph or Eric Dier, and pushing Jordan Henderson forward, but they would lose some of their attacking threat if they did so.
England have scored eight of their 11 goals from set-pieces -- the most by any team at a tournament since Portugal in 1966 -- and Croatia must be concerned about England’s ability to score from dead ball situations.
Delivery is vital. England can make whatever plays they want, however they want to organise their runners and blockers, and however good the likes of Maguire and John Stones are in the air, but it does not matter if the ball is not there. Kieran Trippier has been outstandingly precise in the way he has crossed while Ashley Young on the other flank has done well, too.
Accuracy is important. England scored with both the efforts on target against Sweden and have found the net with 10 of their last 13 shots on target.
Backing Jordan Pickford
Southgate took a gamble when he backed Jordan Pickford, but it is a gamble that has paid him well. He is the very model of the modern goalkeeper with his passing ability from the back important to the way England want to play as the defenders split and they try and play through the opposition’s press. Everyone knew Pickford was good at this and would do it, but after his penalty shoot-out heroics, there was further evidence of the more fundamental requirements of being a goalkeeper: making saves. Pickford made three outstanding saves against Sweden and, by doing so, kept England’s first clean sheet of this World Cup. He also became the youngest England goalkeeper to do so at this level.
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Last Updated 9, Jul 2018, 4:41 PM