The final four of World Cup 2018 features only European sides for the 5th time in the tournament’s history, and the second clash features Croatia in their second semifinal appearance, the last being in 1998, against England who experience their third semifinal, their last being in 1990.

Croatia vs England Semifinal Prediction and Preview

Of the four finalists, Croatia have conceded the most goals (7), are one of only two sides who’ve scored in every match, have the worst shooting accuracy (24% of their 78 shots have been on target), and win the most aerial duels per match (29). Croatia’s knockout round has been a grueling affair, with two dramatic penalty shootout wins following their far cleaner and simpler run in Group D. The standout stars have been midfield veterans Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, both offering defensive solidity and creativity in attack in a well-blended central pair. Mario Mandzukic, Milan Badejl, Ante Rebic and Domagoj Vida have also shown good form, albeit less consistently than the starting midfield maestros.

England, meanwhile, are the only side in the final four who’ve lost a match (1-0 to Belgium), with that defeat being especially significant due to England being perceived to orchestrating defeat to ensure they finished on the “easier “ side of the World Cup draw (the irony is that Belgium has looked very good, particularly in getting past the likes of Brazil). Of the four finalists, England have scored the most penalties (3), scored the most set piece goals (3),  achieved the best conversion rate of goals to shots on target (58%), and are marginally behind Croatia on aerial duels won per match (27). Top scorer Harry Kane has only scored one goal from open play, and has been well supported by the defensive efforts of Kieran Trippier, Harry Maguire and John Stones, all of whom have played well in protecting England’s last line, without exposing Jordan Pickford too much.

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 Fact of Interest:

  • 8 World Cup semifinals in total have gone to extra time, with 6 of those 8 coming since 1982. However, there has never been an occasion where extra time has been seen in a semifinal in two consecutive World Cups. By this trend, 2018 should not produce a semifinal that goes in extra time, since the Netherlands and Argentina contested their 2014 semifinal clash past the 90 minutes.
  • 5 World Cup semifinals in total have gone to penalties, with all 5 coming since 1982.
  • 12 World Cup semifinals in total have been decided by a single goal (excluding penalty shootouts). 8 of the last 10 semifinals (2 went to penalties) have been decided by a single goal.
  • that went to extra time, pens, decided by more than one goal
  • Only on 4 occasions (1934, 1966, 1982 and 2006) have there been only European sides left in the semifinals. Italy won the tournament on 3 of those occasions, with England winning the other instance.
  • Croatia scored first in all their 2018 World Cup group matches, but have failed to keep that record since progressing to the Round of 16. England have scored first in all 4 of their wins.
  • Croatia fell to early goals against Denmark and Russia in the knockout matches but were able to provide goals in response as part of their journey to both of their successful knockout games. England have only trailed once in this World Cup, when Adnan Januzaj scored an unanswered goal in Belgium’s eventual 1-0 win.
  • On the last occasion these sides made it to a World Cup semifinal, Croatia weren’t able to succeed past eventual champions France, while England lost on penalties in 1990’s shootout vs eventual winners Germany.
  • Croatia have lost their sole semifinal appearance 2-0 against France in 1998. England’s loss on penalties in 1990 to Germany was preceded by a semifinal win over Eusebio’s Portugal in 1966.
  • Croatia and England have never met in World Cup competition.
  • Group G is currently the only group to have both progressing teams featuring in a semifinal. This has happened in 7 previous World Cups where the semifinals have featured 2 sides paired together at the initial group stage (Brazil & Turkey, 2002; Brazil & Sweden, 1994; Italy & Poland, 1982; Italy & Argentina, 1978; Italy & Uruguay, 1970; Brazil & Czechoslovakia, 1962; Germany & Hungary, 1954). In all 7 cases, at least one side made it to the final, and in only one case (Italy in 1970) was one of these sides unable to win the entire tournament.

Match Facts & Summary

  Croatia England
World Cup Base Leningrad St. Petersburg
2014 World Cup Finish Group Stage Group Stage
Head to Head Record Played 7, Croatia 2 Wins, England 4 Wins
Head to Head (World Cups Only) Never played each other in World Cup competition
Record in World Cup Semifinals Played 1, Won 0 Played 2, Won 1
Penalty Shootout Record Won 2 of 2 Won 1 of 4
Current Top Scorer Modric – 2 goals in 5 matches Kane – 6 goals in 4 matches
Goals scored in First Half 3 7
Goals scored in Second Half 7 4

 

  Croatia England
Odds – Result 2.51 1.35
First Goalscorer Mandzukic (6.33) Kane (3.41)
Odds – To Win World Cup 4.00 (4th favourite) 2.50 (2nd favourite)
Best Odds – Golden Boot Modric (199.00) Kane (0.10)
Best Odds – Golden Ball Modric (7.00) Kane (3.50)

 

Key Players and Tactical Considerations:

Zlatko Dalic has cycled between various systems at the tournament (433, 4231, 4321 and 4141) making it difficult to anticipate what he’ll use against England. Given the danger Southgate’s men pose in transitional speed and ability to handle aerial duels, Croatia may once again consider flooding their team with a 3 man midfield, as well as the use of quicker forwards to capitalize on any transitional opportunities of their own. This makes the use of Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic crucial for successful counter attacks from wide areas. Modric’s creativity will be crucial in opening England up, while Rakitic and either Badelj, Brozovic or Kovacic will need to provide the right balance in protecting the back 4 from the dribbling threat of Sterling, Lingard and Dele Alli. Arguably most crucial, however, will be Dejan Lovren and whoever partners him at centre back. The injury to Sime Vrsaljko means that either Domagoj Vida, or veteran Vedran Corluka will feature alongside Lovren. Either way, the pair will  need to retain their form and manage the physicality and finishing touch of Harry Kane (assuming the pace of Sterling and Lingard has been dealt with).

England are expected to retain their 3142 system with no teams (apart from Belgium) finding a meaningful way to expose the systemic weaknesses it contains. The back 3 of Maguire, Stones and Walker has been largely excellent at the tournament, but the trio haven’t faced a midfield of this quality yet in the tournament, and will need to keep the dangerous runs and chances created from Croatia’s attack in check. Of critical importance to the match is Jordan Henderson, whose tournament has been divisive; the midfielder has offered little in deepline buildup, but good work rate, though more than that will be needed to contain Modric or Rakitic (and this is also assuming he makes the lineup after seeming to have a hamstring issue vs Sweden). Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling will be especially important with his capacity to unsettle the Croatian midfield with dribbles from their respective areas of the pitch, but it’s current Golden Boot favourite Harry Kane who arguably holds the most important card to play. The captain’s capacity to cause genuine concern for Lovren and Vida makes for the most compelling battle of all in the context of the semifinal. 

Our Prediction:

Both these sides have certain baggage attached to them to undermine their chances for victory. Croatia’s performances since the group matches have waned, and they’ve had to contest two grueling, lengthy extra time affairs, which raise questions about their fitness to handle another match with the potential to go the same distance. Assistant coach Ognjen Vukojevic left the team over a controversial social media posting following the win over Russia. Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic faces a late fitness test, and there’s a likely critical shift at centre back to consider due to the absence of Sime Vrsaljko. England have their issues too; Henderson may not be fit, their set piece prowess has done much to mask what appear to be genuine issues with creativity, and their critics still maintain that England have not yet faced a true test to stretch in a manner that would be required to give them full preparedness for the game against either France or Belgium, should they conquer the Croats. For all the danger Croatia pose though, England’s capacity to handle it seems far more convincing than Croatia’s attacking efficacy. Add the pace threat of Sterling and others alongside the menace of Harry Kane, and the odds may be stacked just enough that Croatia’s superb midfield will finally run out of aces to play, falling short once again of a place in the final.

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* Please note – odds mentioned above are subject to change, so always check the latest published odds to be fully certain before betting.

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