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Croatia vs England, World Cup semifinal, Harry Kane, Luka Modric

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Croatia vs. England: Whether it’s coming home or not, their first stern test

England is dreaming. It’s coming home is their new slogan, knowing they are only 180 minutes away from touching the football’s greatest prize on earth after 52 years of wait again. It seems easier said than done. Those 180 minutes can stretch to 210 or 240 minutes, may be a little longer if penalty comes into action or their dream may last for only 90 minutes on Wednesday night, when they’ll be up against the vastly experienced and technically superior team Croatia. Whether it’s coming home or not, it will be their first stern test.

England’s road to FIFA World Cup 2018’s semi-final hasn’t been a patchy one. Everything has gone smoothly for the Three Lions. They have hardly suffered a blow, except the last 16 game against Colombia. Whether it’s Yerry Mina’s stoppage-time equalizer or Jordon Henderson’s penalty miss in the shootout, it must have given hard time to Gareth Southgate’s England team. But, it was one odd game and they dealt with it getting past their penalty hoodoo.

First time in England’s history, Three Lions overcome penalty shootout situation. They made it to the quarter-finals, and Sweden waiting there hardly made their passage difficult to semi-final. They were in a group, where they have the luxury to lose a match without thinking about the consequences. Finishing runners-up in the group was their choice to get an easy passage ending on the other side of the death-half.

That decision worked and now they only need one more hurdle before meeting the last lion left in death-half. It’s Croatia. A team which entered the tournament as underdogs, develop themselves as dark horses and now they are favourite to lift the World Cup.

It’s fair to say that Vatreni is the most vastly experienced team left in the tournament with top class talent and skills in their player.  They have a midfield which dominates the world playing for their respective clubs. Real Madrid’s Luka Modric is current era’s best midfielder after Xavi and Iniesta. Ivan Rakitic also deserves to be in best category because he simply play for Barcelona. And, when the duo combines for their national team, it’s mesmerizing effect. You cannot get a better talent with that much of experience in any other teams.

It’s not only their midfield. They have the players in every position with vast experience and natural talent. Very few can match Ivan Perisic skills as a winger, Ante Rebic and Andrej Kramaric is revolution of this World Cup, Mario Mandzukic continues to do what he does best. There is so much competition for only one position in the midfield that Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovacic is sitting on the bench and Inter Milan man Marcelo Brojovic is occupying that place.

Domagoz Vida and Dejan Lovren gives much stability to the back, getting help from Atletico Madrid’s Sime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic from full-back positions. Monaco’s shot-stopper Danijel Subasic is at his best with goalkeeping gloves making the most saves from penalty spot.

If somebody will say that this England side can get past Croatia challenge, I’ll doubt it. This England side is so naïve. However, they haven’t shown any sign of it up till now.

It will be their first stern test against a quality side, a side which has shown the strength of earning a favourite tag. If Three Lions wants to take it home, they need to get past that stern challenge. Croatia is not Sweden, neither Colombia, nor Tunisia, or Panama was the least of my worries.

Yes, they have labored to reach to the semifinals, but look out the teams they faced – Iceland, Argentina, Nigeria, Denmark, and Russia. Each of these one have their own inspiring story and they could have been tough on their opponents on their given day. Iceland played 1-1 draw with Argentina before facing Croatia, Nigeria was the strongest African team at 2018 World Cup, Argentina – don’t need to say anything knowing they had Messi, and they topped their group.

Denmark come inspired into the tournament with Christian Eriksen’s inspired performance and Russia as a host has produced spectacles. But, they get past all of them. England may be only World Cup winner team alive alongside France, but Croatia have nothing to fear them in present era.

Croatia’s head coach Zlatko Dalic said, “We believe in our strengths. We don’t fear England. He [Kane] is a top scorer – he’s not easy to stop. But he have top centre-backs. We managed to stop Messi and [Christian] Eriksen, so hopefully we can stop Kane.”

It’s a clear warning. England haven’t created much problems from open play and they have been lethal with dead ball situations. Croatia must be aware about that, and they won’t have much problem with that as well. They have their big men in squad to contain any danger from those situations. Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic is 6’5’’, Lovren and Vida also have similar heights, Mandzukic is out there as Croatia’s bully man.

It’s going to be a tough night for Three Lions at Luzhniki Stadium, on Wednesday. They have been heavily reliant on Kane in this World Cup, although John Stones and Harry Maguire have supported well to his captain from dead ball situations. But, it’s still unconvincing when you’re not firing from all cylinders.

England is not going to enjoy that much of possession against Croatia. They’ll be left undone in midfield if they can’t find a solution. Croatia will be licking their lips to cause problems for them. England need to take one game at a time. It’s coming home, maybe or maybe not! Whether it’s coming home or not, It’s their first stern test.


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