Corner Kickabout: England vs Croatia

Dear reader,

Welcome to the third installment of Corner Kickabout, where our writers engage in spirited conversation about the footballing world. Today our focus is on the upcoming World Cup semifinal between European sides England and Croatia. Read on below to learn more about our takes for what is sure to be an exciting game!

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Captains Luka Modric and Harry Kane will do battle on Wednesday. Image: Forbes

Nathan Strauss: I think both of these teams actually balance each other out fairly nicely. Croatia obviously have a very very strong midfield, but with England’s formation, it’s going to get crowded quite quickly, thereby cancelling out both sides’ strengths. England has physical forwards, Croatia does as well. Et cetera. This match is set up for one goal to be enough to avoid penalties, however neither side want to progress to a final against France in that manner. England will have to play a little outside of their comfort zones and not rely on set pieces and headers. If I were Gareth Southgate, I would try to have this England team play with pace against a relatively average-paced Croatia.

Caleb Rhodes: One of the keys we talked about for England’s success in the World Cup that we discussed in our preview podcast was goalkeeper, and how important having stability at keeper would be for The Three Lions. So far Jordan Pickford has been utterly amazing, so you can check that off the list of concerns. But other problems still exist: their overreliance on the header goal is concerning, and while Dele Alli’s header was good, I don’t think the current midfield setup gets the best out of Alli or Jesse Lingard. On the flipside, Croatia changed their formation against Russia to be a little more attacking with Andrej Kramaric in place of Marcelo Brozovic, but while Kramaric did score, Croatia were worse on the whole. Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, and Brozovic have been lethal together, best seen in their 3-0 obliteration of Argentina, and manager Zlatko Dalic needs to reunite them for the semi final. The one looming question for Croatia is fitness. Russia with their at times superhuman endurance really beat up the entire Croatian team. At the beginning of extra time it seemed like every player was pulling up with a hamstring strain. There are question marks over Danijel Subasic, Mario Mandzukic, Sime Vrsaljko, and Ivan Strinic. And if a combination of these players are unable to play against England that would be damaging because while Croatia’s starting XI is superior than England’s, their bench is lacking in game changers. For that reason, assuming everyone is healthy I believe Croatia can win, but if a few of these injuries deprive Croatia of key starters, England may be on the precipice of actually bringing it home.

Nick Govindan: Do I think football is coming home? No, I think the English will be forced to watch football head to France at the end of this tournament. However, I do believe that The Three Lions will be headed to the final. This World Cup has been described by many as “the set piece World Cup” and England’s performances have contributed heavily to that moniker. England seem to be dominant on set pieces and not entirely reliant on their smaller and quicker stars to produce too many unlikely moments of individual brilliance. The World Cup semi final is crunch time, and if England can be elite at one aspect of play, in this case their strength lies in the air, then that is a massive plus headed into this match. Take Harry Maguire’s goal against Sweden. Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson takes the cue from corner kick taker Ashley Young and darts towards the goal line, taking two Swedish defenders with him. This move by Henderson left the smaller Emil Forsberg marking Harry Maguire, and in the blink of an eye: England lead one-nil. England’s youth will also play a factor in this clash as they have displayed immense stamina and durability throughout this tournament, while an older Croatian side has suffered through two 120 minute matches to get to this point. Russia battered Croatia in the latter stages of their quarter final clash in what looked to more like a sequel to Gladiator than the beautiful game. England’s swagger and spring in their step will be enough to get by a talented, but fatigued, Croatia.

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Harry Maguire has starred for England in the World Cup so far. Image: Express

NS: The thing this game has going for it is that both of these nations have a lot of pride, and both teams really want to reach the final. For England, finally taking control of the narrative that has surrounded their national team since 1966 is very important, as is bringing “football home,” as the saying goes. Croatia may never again have such a gifted class of players; they are in the midst of their own golden generation rife with players who are ageing (Modric, Rakitic, Mandzukic). My prediction for this game is 2-1 to England after extra time.

CR: England are destined for some kind of Shakespearean tragedy. I don’t know if that happens in the semifinal or the final itself, but regardless, football isn’t coming home. If you read the lyrics to the whole its coming home song (actually called Three Lions by Baddiel, Skinner, and the Lightning Seeds), it’s actually quite sad at times and documents the lamentations about English football over the years. While the song is meant to create a spirit of optimism amidst historical failure, you cannot fully ignore the dark side that certainly still portends to cloud England at any time. Admittedly, one of the main reasons I’m supporting Croatia is because their President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic proudly wore red and white and celebrated Croatia’s victory over Russia with wild arm waving and whooping in the stands right next to the President of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, and the Russian PM, Dmitri Medvedev. Until I see the Queen out there with a Three Lions kit herself, England have nothing on Croatia. I think England do win it though, in penalties. Lightning can strike twice I guess.

NG: I slightly disagree with Caleb about the dreary nature of Football’s Coming Home. I get a strong sense that destiny is on the side of this spunky England side and a victory against Croatia will be their crowning achievement. It will be interesting to see how Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic do with the large number of rapid players populating England’s midfield, however Croatia did find a way to effectively neutralize a pacey and youthful Nigeria. Croatia have immense drive, coming back to immediately equalize minutes after conceding the opener in both of their knockout round matches so far, however this incarnation of The Three Lions has a tremendous amount of heart. The optimism brimming from their fanbase has translated into quality on the pitch and I believe we’ll see that continue here. Harry Kane has been a force at this tournament and will score against a fatigued Croatia defense, especially with hot head Domagov Vida playing out of position at right back. Footballs headed to final, but will do so after scoring the winner in extra time. 2-1 to The Three Lions.

Thanks so much for reading! Be on the lookout for our next Corner Kickabout and many other recaps and opinion pieces coming your way in the near future. Enjoy the footy.



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