Croatia vs England Preview: Is football coming home?

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PHOTO: FIFA.COM

Is football coming home?

We are two games away to confirm that!

But as for English football fans “Football is coming home!”

They have been creating team-supporting memes that leave the rest of the world a little jealous.

The semi-final face-off between England and Croatia is England’s biggest match for a generation. England’s opportunity to reach the World Cup final for the first time since 1966 and their first appearance in a World Cup semi-final since 1990 when they lost to West Germany on penalties.

So after 52 years since their last appearance at the World Cup final, England, technically the birthplace of the sport, if their team wins the World Cup, will literally be bringing the game back home.

But shall we wait till after the two team lock horns in the mouth-watering FIFA World Cup 2018 semi-final clash at Luzhniki Stadium on tomorrow?

Here, let’s take a look at how we think things will pan out between the English Golden Generation and Croatia’s “New Golden Generation”

England vs Croatia
The match will be first time Croatia will be meeting with the Three Lions at a major competition since the Euro 2004 group stage when England won 4-2.

This is their first time they will be at loggerheads in the World Cup and obviously, it will birth a significant emotional outcome.

On the one hand, Croatia is in the semi-final having needed extra-time and penalties in their last two knockout games. They owe their incredible run in those couple of games to both luck and sheer mental strength.

Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic is the hero of the two rows, scoring the last penalties in the two games.

On the other hand, Gareth Southgate’s men edged passed ‘Cavani-less’ Colombia in the round of 16 in a penalty shootout showpiece and eliminated Sweden with a confident 2-0 quarter-final victory.

The first and only time Croatia were at the semi-final of the World Cup was in 1998 and they were defeated by host team, France, and have never reached a World Cup final. Now that they have defeated the host team in the quarter-final, will they be able to clear their road to play in the final at the expense of England who have only reached the final once?

Croatia have this knack for creating a lot of chances but somehow do not put them to bed, In fact, they are leading the stats of the most off-target attempts. They will certainly need to correct this and hope they do not face yet another decider by spot kick.

Vatreni’s main man and captain Luka Modric has been exceptional in his team’s run to a semi-final, picking up the man-of-the-match award in three of Croatia’s five matches.

Also, Monaco keeper Danijel Subašić, has helped Croatia keep their hopes alive. He came up with a number of crucial penalty saves including three against Denmark to book his nation a place in the quarter-finals.

The current Zlatko Dalić’s players have sparkled in Russia and are now just two games away from immortality.

England have displayed a free-flowing football in their last five games. Although you could argue they are yet to face a strong opposition except when they met and lost against Belgium in the group stage.

The biggest assignment for Croatia in this game is to defend corners or set pieces. England have scored eight of their 11 goals from set pieces, they’ve caused mayhem from corners and when they’re not scoring directly from them, or from the rebound or knockdown, and then they’re forcing defenders to give away penalties.

They will be hoping for the likes of Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard, and Raheem Sterling to fire in the goals.

Dele Alli will have himself to battle with Luka Modric. Although Modric’s exact role can be variable, he could spray passes from midfield or be pushed forward to operate in support of main striker Mario Mandzukic.

Alli has his own attacking inclinations but there could be responsibility on him to drop back to prevent Modric taking a firm grip.

We shall also have another head-to-head from two premier League players – Dejan Lovren and Harry Kane. Lovren is not a new prey to Kane. Lovren will again have a big task to fulfill by trying to stop the highest goal scorer of this competition so far.

Possible line-ups
Croatia: Danijel Subasic; Sime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic; Ivan Rakitic, Marcelo Brozovic; Ante Rebic, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic; Mario Mandzukic

England: Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire; Kieran Trippier, Dele, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young; Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane.

Did you know?

Almost three-quarters of England’s Russia 2018 squad (17/23) were not yet born the last time England appeared in the semi-finals (4 July 1990), with Danny Rose born just one day after England’s quarter-final victory against Cameroon at Italy 1990. Croatia’s youngest player in their Russia 2018 squad – Duje Caleta-Car – was just 1 year, 9 months old when Croatia last appeared in the final four (8 July 1998).