Without doubt England reached this semi-final, after 28 years of failures to do so (1990 – Paul Gascoigne’s ‘tears’ game), with nothing less than a full quota of luck [that included a crazy tournament when most the main contenders inexplicably fell by the wayside – Germany [Rank 1] bottom of their Group when taken out by South Korea & Mexico; in the Round of 16 we had Portugal [Rank 4] taken out by Uruguay, and Argentina [Rank 5] taken out by France, and Switzerland [Rank 6] taken out by Sweden; followed by the Quarters when Brazil [Rank 2] were taken out by Belgium (who now become another semi-finalist).
This game on Wednesday evening (Luzhnikj Stadium Mosow) is going to be a real big test and England’s greatest challenge so far in Russia, as Croatia [Rank 18] will make a formidable and experienced opponent, not least because of their improved form in Russia. They soundly won all 3 of their Group matches (including thrashing Argentina 3-0), but in the knockouts they won only on penalties in both the Round of 16, and the Quarter-final, though in all their games they have gained very high percentage possession.
Well, perhaps England’s performances have been a bit more problematical (including a loss, a somewhat lucky win, and a win on penalties), but certainly in the clean sheet win against Sweden in the Quarters, there were clear signs that the team are at last capable of high achievement – which is a welcome respite after the embarrassment of the last tournament, eh? [2016 Euros].
Expectations, are now rightly higher than ever, but at least they are reasonably justified, whereas before they perhaps verged on irrationally, with unwarranted choruses of “Football’s Coming Home” being belted out around the country?
We can expect a tough physical game against Croatia, and indeed at this World Cup their pure aggression on the pitch has resulted in 12 YELLOW CARDS, so they now top that table [although they haven’t had a player suspended (well 4 countries have)], while England have hit 5 yellow cards (Kyle Walker, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard, Harry Maguire).
[All these cars are now wiped of course so no player can miss the Final through card accumulation]
Hugely talented Croatia fields a world-class playmaker axis of Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic [and with Modric now playing further forward to provide killer passes], their influence must rightly be feared. In attack they have a prolific goal scorer in Mario Mandzukic of Juventus with 31 goals total (including 5 goals in the qualifiers and 1 goal in these finals), while behind the defence, Monaco’s Danijel Subasic is pretty untouchable in goal.
Now, England may well have a very young inexperienced side, but nevertheless it come also with youthful confidence and a number of very talented players – like defenders veteran Ashley Young and newbie Trent Alexander-Arnold, or midfielders Jordon Henderson (who many of us thought should have been captain) and Del Ali, apart from world class and lethal striker Harry Kane (captain here), of course?
[No doubt, manager Southgate will persist with his favourite ‘non-scorer’ striker Sterling in the line-up, despite the ongoing excesses of missed chances, with only 2 goals in 42 matches over the past 6 years – by the law of averages he is bound to score ‘sometime’? (then Southgate will say he’s been vindicated by keeping faith, eh?)]
England certainly can win this semi-final, and at 90 minutes, forty percent of people think so too, against just a quarter in favour of Croatia [the bookies give odds of England around 11/8 and for Croatia around 5/2].
In 2 days’ time, against Croatia, Kane has to show a high level of effectiveness (missing against Sweden), and the defence must show more concentration than they have done so far in this tournament (missing again against Sweden), otherwise England will suffer the sucker punch at this twelfth hour, wouldn’t you say?
[If England do meet the nation’s hopes to win this game, they will have done themselves proud as well as proved themselves, so will have no reason to fear anyone in Sunday’s Final, will they?]
If, after 90 minutes, a match ends in a draw, extra time of two periods of 15 minutes each will be played. If the score is level after extra time, penalty kicks will be taken to determine the winner in accordance with the procedure described in the Laws of the Game.
[The first Semi-Final is between France [Rank 7] and Belgium [Rank 3] Tuesday evening.
The second Semi-Final is between England [Rank 13] and Croatia [Rank 18] Wednesday evening].
(all Rankings all pre June at time of squad selections)
THE GOLDEN BOOT 2018 [Remaining contenders]
Rank Player Goals
1 Harry Kane 6
2 Romelu Lukaku 4
5 Antoine Griezmann 3
5 Kyhan Mbappe 3
World Cup Finals’ progression
Semi Finals France v. Belgium
England v. Croatia
The winning 2 teams to progress
Final 15th July