2018 FIFA World Cup Semi-final preview: England vs. Croatia

 Photo credit: REUTERS

Photo credit: REUTERS

We are now at the second semi-final of the World Cup, and while we had a clash of powerhouses on one side, on the other there's some surprise teams hoping to make the final. Both England and Croatia needed some luck to get here, but now each faces their toughest test of the knockout rounds in each other. It’s just shows how wild and unpredictable this World Cup has been.

Croatia

After topping Group D, Croatia needed back-to-back penalty shootout wins to advance to the semi-finals. The first one took place against Denmark after a gut-wrenching save on a Luka Modric penalty shot in the dying moments of extra time kept the Danes in it. But Modric and his teammates stepped up and thanks to some poor penalties by Denmark, the stage was set for Ivan Rakitic to win it.

Their next match against Russia was another slogfest as Croatia came back from an early goal to tie the game and eventually take the lead in extra time. However, Russia came back strong and equalized to force penalties. There goalkeeper Danijel Subasic came up with a huge save and two missed spot kicks from the hosts, opening the door for Rakitic yet again to win it and send his country to the next round.

It’s been a stressful journey for Croatia but there are on the doorstep of reaching a semi-final. This wasn’t entirely out of left field considering their runs in Euro 2016 and how the group stage went. It was just how they got to this point which was interesting.

England

England didn't have the same struggle on their end, but they did avoid crisis in the round of 16 against Colombia. A tie at the end of stoppage time meant English fans worst fears: penalty kicks, a heartbreak they're all too familiar with. But this time it was different, as Eric Dier exorcised the demons of World Cup past and lifted the Three Lions to the quarterfinals, where they cruised to an easy 2-0 win over an upstart Sweden team.

The key for England to advance will be the midfield. Can the trio of Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli, and Jesse Lingard somehow slow down the duo of Rakitic and Modric? Both Croatian midfielders do a lot of work and usually set up in a double pivot, each playing a different role with Modric being the controller and Rakitic being the guy who has an insane work rate and can clean up if necessary. Give them enough time and they will run the game with ease, especially Modric, who has a legitimate shot at winning the Golden Ball.

If the Croatian midfielders are able to spring passes forward to the likes of Ivan Perisic on the wing, England’s back three could be in major trouble. It will be up to Henderson to make sure he can make life difficult for Croatia. Lingard will be asked a lot as well but given his role at Manchester United, defending for a lot of the time shouldn’t be a tall task. While Croatia does have holes in their defense, England can’t forget they are facing two high-quality guys who can break them if given the chance. Modric and Rakitic are game changers and control just how well this Croatian team will play. Whichever team controls the middle of the park wins this game. 

Prediction

Both England and Croatia have done well to get here. Granted it wasn’t the strongest opposition but they played with the cards they were given. It’s a tough matchup for both teams and it’s an even one too. I have to go with the stronger side here and it’s Croatia.

2-1 Croatia