(BACK L to R) England’s goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, England’s defender John Stones, England’s defender Gary Cahill, England’s midfielder Eric Dier, England’s defender Phil Jones, England’s forward Marcus Rashford, England’s midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, (FRONT L-R) England’s forward Jamie Vardy, England’s defender Trent Alexander-Arnold, England’s defender Danny Rose and England’s midfielder Fabian Delph pose before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group G football match between England and Belgium at the Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad on June 28, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Patrick HERTZOG /
While the run of the English team has been adjudged “brilliant” by some pundits, it is apt to face the reality of the Three Lions playing against a Croatian team that fits the circle of “the real test” for the English after defeating Columbia and Sweden to the semi-final stage.
Truth is that the English men have these few things to worry about.
Croatia’s possession play
Thus far in this World Cup, England has been able to avoid tougher opponents capable of outplaying them in midfield. Colombia were hampered by the absence of James Rodriguez and settled for the lineup of holding midfielders instead, while Sweden, Tunisia and Panama played on the break.
Croatia, have talented midfielders capable of commanding possession. In their 2-2 draw against Russia, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic spread into very wide positions, almost full-back zones, stringing passes and dictating the pace of the game. Manager Zlatko Dalic is likely to reformat his side on Wednesday, opting for a 4-3-3 instead of a 4-4-2. But whatever the case may be, Modric and Rakitic have the license to command play from the heart of the midfield.
This will presumably stretch England’s own midfield trio and, if Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard need to play wider, there’s a danger that Henderson will be left exposed to the movement inside of Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic. Coping with long spells of pressure will make things nervy for England.
Wealth of experience
The core of this England team, prior to the World Cup have no experience on a big stage as this. Although the Croatian players do not have a World Cup semi-final experience, but they are very experienced.
Experience will be a key factor in this considering the Croatian squad from the leadership of their defense in Corluka and Lovren who both are very experienced, but lack pace like their English opponents. The midfield of Modric, Rakitic and others, who are not just experienced but also dynamic in play compared to the likes of Eric Dier, Dele Ali, Jesse Lingard others. In the attack, the Croatians have the ever-present and technical Mario Mandzukic to ensure defenders have a heavy load of work to deal with.
Unlike other opponents England has played in the competition, Croatia have played 120 minutes in both the round of 16 and the quarterfinal, meaning the team can keep the shape in defense for as long as the game goes on.
This will be a major problem for the Three Lions who throughout their campaign have played oppositions with a shaky defensive shape. Essentially, Croatia have only conceded four goals until this stage after securing clean sheets against offensive oppositions like Argentina, Russia and Nigeria.
Yes, Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli will all be threatening to run at Croatia’s defense while Henderson will try lifting passes over the top for Harry Kane to connect, but for England to get through this defense, their play needs to be consistently direct.
But Croatia with its aggressive defensive line against previous oppositions should be careful and not be overawed by England’s pace.