Saturday, 14 July 2018

World Cup Final: France vs Croatia

As a showpiece FIFA World Cup Final awaits us, 1998 winners France will take on first-time finalists Croatia. For just 4m people to reach the tournament final is incredible: can they go all the way and defeat a France side who feel like the best team here in the tournament?


France News
There’s not much in the way of injury worries: Blaise Matuidi and Djibril Sidibe are both doubts but should make it. This will be interesting, though, as Matuidi has been essential to their growth and development as a side as the tournament has progressed. With Croatia so strong out wide, losing his prowess would be a major blow.

Expect Ngolo Kante to be key to victory here, if France are to do it. We think that France will be looking to really push forward their momentum, trying to pin back Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric.


Croatia News

The worrying news that Ivvan Strinic, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic might all be a risk for the Final is a major worry for the Croatians. They will be tired after three consecutive runs of extra time becoming the only side in history to reach the final by doing so and will be looking to try and patch up their team in time for kick-off.



Injuries to key players for Croatia is much worse than it is for France, purely for depth reasons. If Perisic was to miss out, then Sime Vrsaljko’ fitness would become even more important.


Verdict


Too close to call, too hard to say: we can see a France win, though. They aren’t very good to watch outside of the Argentina game, but should have the talent to make it count in a one-off game like this Croatia, though, can feel proud of a run that will live long in the memory.

Friday, 13 July 2018

World Cup Third Place Match: Belgium vs England

After a fantastic run to the Semi-Finals, the dream is over for both England and for Belgium. It’s a major blow to come so close yet be so far, but the Third Place Play-Off tie should really help to settle the podium finish for both sides here in Russia.


Belgium News
Expect the Belgians to rest a few of their players. Romelu Lukaku knows he needs a hat-trick to get the Golden Boot, which would be highly unlikely at this point. Eden Hazard also knows that another good performance would put him alongside Kylian Mbappe and Luka Modric for the Golden Ball.

With a long season to come, though, don’t expect many of the major starters to play here. we expect people like Axel Witsel and Vincent Kompany to play, but key player like Thibaut Courtois, Kevin de Bruyne and Toby Alderweireld will likely sit this one out.


England News
For the Three Lions, the chance exists to give a few of the other players a chance. Expect to see Danny Rose and Trent Alexander-Arnold come in on the flanks, with the back three maintaining a semblance of consistency.

Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane will likely play up-top, too, with Eric Dier replacing Jordan Henderson in the midfield. Jesse Lingard will get the chance to finish off a strong campaign, while Fabian Delph will get to sign off on what has been a very good year for him personally with another game here.


Verdict
While it does not really matter, we expect an English win. Belgium came to the tournament wanting to win it, and will feel gutted by their loss. England just wanted to have a good time, and can go home knowing they managed to achieve that and then some: they will be far more likely to be up for it here.

Gareth Southgate



A picture of England manager Gareth Southgate hugging his wife after England's 2-1 loss to Croatia. For their faults England gave us a good - and unexpected - run in the 2018 Russia World Cup. It's a youthful team and what a journey they've been on. A missed opportunity, yes, but we certainly now have a good foundation on which to build. Let's stay positive!

Monday, 9 July 2018

England vs Croatia: Three Lion's Roar Reaches Fever Pitch

After a tremendous win over Sweden where England were rarely troubled, The Three Lions turn their attention to Croatia. The Semi Finals awaits for a nation that has not been there since 1990: can they go one better?

One expert summed up this tie as being ‘a little like Ten Henman avoiding Pete Sampras, and only having to beat Goran Ivanisevic. Can one home favourite avoid the sporting mistakes of another?


England News
England are blessed to reach this stage of a tournament with minimal to no injury worries. The fact that they came through the Sweden tie without much effort means they should be much fresher than the Croats. Croatia have had to overcome extra time and penalties twice: don’t discount the impact that will have on fitness levels.

We might see England try to counter the qualities in space of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic with the help of Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier. While not the most effective pairs offensively (though Henderson is much-improved), they provide a screen that would severely hurt Croatia going forward.


Croatia News
Croatia, meanwhile, are going to be sweating over the fitness of Sime Vrsaljko. The Atletico Madrid full-back took a knock in the Quarter-Final win over Russia, and might struggle to make it here. That would be a huge blow, with his deputy nowhere near the same standard.

Croatia will need to find space for a third midfielder, though: Modric and Rakitic are outstanding but cannot be the screen. They were poor against Russia until they were freed up with Marcelo Brozovic’ entry into the game.


Verdict
England will make their first Final since 1966. They’ll do it with a lot of effort and no shortage of luck, no doubt, but they’ll get there: the force of fate feels overwhelming.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

World Cup: Sweden v England

While England fans were ready to start talking about how they had diffused the Colombia game, then Yerry Mina scored. While previous English sides would have crumbled, they persevered and won via penalty shootout. Can they do the same against a determined Sweden side they have a challenging record against?


Sweden News
The Swedes are going to come into this tie with a real belief they can do something special. While full-back Emil Krafth will likely have a few question marks on his performance after a challenging tournament so far, he’s ably assisted by Viktor Claesson on the right-hand side.

Emil Forsberg, the player Sweden rely upon most for creativity, will likely come in off the left-hand side once again for the Swedes. He poses an interesting choice, and should play a major role in any creativity that Sweden can show.


England News
England will likely return to their 3-5-2 again, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek added back into the middle of the pitch. He’s a talented midfielder, and should be a fine pick for rampaging through the lines. With an extra man over the Swedes in the middle, expect England to have most of the ball.

Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen will pose challenges for the England defence, so it will be interesting to see how they handle that physical presence up-front.


Verdict
It’s a hard game to call. England have been pretty stop-start at the tournament so far, with Harry Kane the leading light in just about every match alongside Kieran Trippier. If England can keep the performance level of the Colombia first-half a little longer, they should win here.

Sweden are a good side, but they are limited in terms of athleticism and pace. Without much pace, getting out will be tough: making an England win feel more likely.