World Cup 2018, England vs Croatia: Three Key Battles that will decide the second semi-final clash
When the World Cup began, most believed that the semi-finals would be composed of the following four teams: Spain, Germany, France and Brazil.
Other potential teams in the top 4 included Belgium, Uruguay, Portugal, Colombia and Argentina. While France and Belgium did fulfil that potential, two teams that were not expected to be in the semi-finals are Croatia and England. Both had been perennial disappointments over the past decade.
England’s Golden Generation didn’t come to fruition as the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney failed to take the Three Lions past the quarter-finals. Croatia didn’t have similar expectations, but their failure to get out of the group stages since 1998- disappointing for a team which has had Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic over the past decade.
Now one of these perennially disappointing teams will be in the final of the FIFA World Cup. Gareth Southgate has led a young English side that has dumped the baggage of the past. On the other hand, Zlatko Dalic has helped Croatia to match the achievements of their best team in 1998. So what are some key battles that will decide this semi-final?
In reality, I may have left out the most important key battle- the one at the penalty spot. Of the four combined knockout games played by these teams, three have ended in penalty shootouts. It is very likely that a cagey semi-final may end in a penalty shootout.
#1 Harry Kane vs Domagoj Vida
Harry Kane’s goal-scoring has been a little overrated at this World Cup- the Tottenham striker has scored three penalties, two tap-ins and one inadvertent deflection. However, the England captain has managed to have an impact even when he hasn’t been scoring. His hold-up play was particularly excellent against Colombia.
Croatia will need to stop Kane if they are to have any hope of winning the game. Thankfully for the Croats, they have the exact person for the job: Domagoj Vida who is likely to be available despite political controversies.
While Dejan Lovren has gotten most of the footballing attention from the Croatian defence, Vida has been more consistent for a Croatian defence that has only conceded four goals in five games.
Croatia will need Vida to defeat Kane in the air (especially on set-pieces)- the Tottenham striker has won 4.8 aerial duels per game so far in the tournament.
Thankfully for the Balkan nation, Vida himself is quite adept in making aerial clearances. Vida also has the ability to intercept through-passes to Kane, having made 1.8 interceptions per game in the tournament.
Vida will need to repeat such performances if he is to help Croatia contain the Golden Boot contender.