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 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, 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.
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.