Jack Lang expects Gareth Southgate's magical World Cup run to continue on Wednesday night...
"Croatia have been fairly underwhelming since beating Argentina: they made heavy work of both Denmark and Russia and have been workmanlike rather than inspired in attack"
Croatia v England
Live on ITV
Vatreni eyeing history
Twenty years after their last - and indeed first - appearance, Croatia are back in the World Cup semi-finals. It's no small achievement for a nation of around four million people, and yet you could argue that this kind of thing has been a long time coming, given the talent in the squad over the last few years. With Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić and Mario Mandžukić all the wrong side of 30, this will surely be this team's best chance of going one step further than the class of 1998.
The quarter-final win over Russia was testing, both emotionally and physically. Croatia will certainly feel they have dispelled any lingering penalty-shootout hoodoo from Euro 2008, but another 120 minutes of football appeared to have taken its toll: there were players limping and grimacing all through the additional half hour. To borrow a phrase from Gareth Southgate, their changing room must have been like a scene from M*A*S*H after the game.
Right-back Šime Vrsaljko looks set to miss out here, which is a significant blow: the Atlético Madrid man has been a reliable attacking outlet and solid on the back foot. Vedran Ćorluka is likely to come in, with Domagoj Vida shuffling to the right. That's hardly ideal, and coach Zlatko Dalić will be desperate for Mandžukić and goalkeeper Danijel Subašić to have recovered after picking up knocks.
England enjoying a summer to remember
If you've switched on the news or walked outside at any point over the last week, you will know that a strange form of mass hysteria has hit swathes of England. People jumping off buses and through bus shelters; a trillion Harry Maguire memes; random people screaming "It's Coming Home!" to nobody in particular in the dead of night (maybe this is just my neighbourhood)... it's all been a little bit surreal in recent days.
Understandably so, perhaps. England doing well at a major tournament: this just doesn't happen very often. A whole generation had grown up associating World Cup campaigns with only tactical drudgery, starry egotism and bloody recriminations, so it's obviously a pleasant surprise to be able to watch a team of fairly likeable players perform well. And the transformation of Gareth Southgate from pariah to national treasure has been touching.
The win against Sweden will have given the side great confidence and, unlike Croatia, there are no injury concerns. Which isn't to say there is not room for improvement: Dele Alli scored on Saturday but has yet to put in a truly defining performance, while Raheem Sterling could do with a slice of luck to calm his nerves in front of goal. In general, though, the mood could hardly be better in the Three Lions camp.
Croatia have been fairly underwhelming since an excellent display against Argentina: they made heavy work of both Denmark and Russia - two fairly limited sides - and have been workmanlike rather than inspired in attack. Mandžukić and Ante Rebić will both hassle the England backline, but with Ivan Perišić yet to burst into life, a good deal of the creative responsibility will fall on the shoulders of the midfielders.
Modrić has been excellent thus far, and it wouldn't be a major surprise if Dalić opted to play him a little further forward, perhaps with Marcelo Brozović alongside Rakitić in front of the defence. That would give Jordan Henderson plenty to think about and would give Croatia more cover against the movement of Alli and Jesse Lingard.
But England have more attacking outlets than their opponents. Kieran Tripper and Ashley Young will fancy their chances against Vida and the conservative Ivan Strinić out wide, while Sterling will no doubt be licking his lips at the thought of a one-on-one battle with Ćorluka. With those dead balls also in the locker and Croatia feeling the fatigue, it seems fair that the Three Lions are [2.38] favourites to win in 90 minutes.
Both of Croatia's knockout games so far have been cagey affairs, despite early goals. Theirs is a circumspect approach and with the nerves likely to be jangling on both sides - this is virgin territory for these England players too - a low-scoring game could be in store. You can get [1.6] on there being under 2.5 goals, but if you fancy Southgate's men to get the job done, an England win with under 3.5 goals is 9/5 on the Sportsbook.
Harry Kane got through plenty of unselfish work against Sweden, but will have been slightly frustrated not to have found the net himself, not least because he had a good chance from the edge of the area. He will be sniping at set pieces as usual and looks backable at [2.44].
Jack Lang's World Cup P/L
Croatia v England Opta Stats
This is the eighth meeting between England and Croatia, with England winning four of those games, with one draw and two Croatia wins; six of the previous seven games have also been played on a Wednesday. England are [1.69] to make it to the World Cup final.
England and Croatia have met once before at a major tournament – England won 4-2 in a group stage match at Euro 2004. The English are [2.4] to win the match in 90 minutes.
Croatia have had eight different scorers at the 2018 World Cup – only Belgium have had more different players find the net (9). Both teams to score is [2.16].
England have scored 11 goals at this year’s World Cup, a joint-record along with the 11 they scored in their victorious 1966 tournament. Over 2.5 goals is [2.64].
Croatia have reached the World Cup semi-finals for the second time since their first World Cup participation in 1998, which is more than the likes of Argentina, England, Italy, Portugal and Spain (1 each). The only European nations with more semi-final appearances in this period (inc. 2018) are Germany (4), France (3) and Netherlands (3). Croatia are [2.42] in the To Qualify market.
Croatia reached the semi-finals via penalty shootout victories in the last 16 against Denmark and quarter-final against Russia – the only other team to win two penalty shootouts in a single World Cup were Argentina in 1990 (against Yugoslavia and Italy). The draw after 90 minutes is [3.15].
Croatia have only lost one of their six knockout matches at the World Cup, losing to France in the 1998 semi-final. They are [3.65] to win the game.
Harry Kane has scored on six of the seven days of the week for England, with Wednesday the only day he hasn’t scored on. Should he score, he’ll become just the third player to score on all seven days of the week for England, after Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard. Kane is [2.4] to add to his tally.
Mario Mandzukic assisted Andrej Kramaric’s goal against Russia in the quarter-final – he has been involved in four goals at the World Cup finals for Croatia (3 goals, 1 assist), with only Davor Suker involved in more (6). Mandzukic is [4.5] to add to his tally.
Eight of England’s 11 goals at the 2018 World Cup have been scored via set-pieces – since 1966, the only team to equal that number in a single World Cup tournament are Portugal in 1966 (also eight goals). The odds of there being a penalty in the match are [2.78].
Back England to win and under 3.5 goals at 9/5 (Sportsbook)