England face tough challenge from Croatia in World Cup semi-finals

Harry Maguire’s header and Jordan Pickford’s (pictured) three saves took England into the World Cup semi-finals after 28 years with a 2-0 decisive win over a listless Sweden on Saturday.

But England may be facing a tough challenge on Wednesday when they meet Croatia in the crucial semi-finals in Moscow.

Unlike Sweden, Croatia have players like Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic who are good at scoring goals. Moreover, they are inspired and want to outdo their side which finished third in the 1998 World Cup in France. They have come to Russia to lift the cup and the match with England is going to be a do-or-die battle for them.

England have problems. Harry Kane (pictured) and set-pieces cannot be expected to produce goals every time. Other team members have to use their creative instincts, agility and footwork to beat Croatia’s defenders during open play and score goals to take the team to the final on July 15.

Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling lack cohesion. During the match with Sweden, Sterling wasted two opportunities for scoring even when he was left alone with keeper Robin Olsen.

England have to play their natural game right from the kick-off. In their match with Sweden, it took them 10-15 minutes to settle. Such delay may prove costly when they play Croatia.

One great asset for England is their keeper Pickford who made three spectacular saves in the second half against Sweden. He can frustrate Croatia’s forwards during open play and tilt the scales in favour of England in case the game progresses to penalty shootout.

On Saturday, England played a good game to beat Sweden with a convincing margin. Except for some sparkling moves in the second half, Sweden played a slow and cautious game to draw England out to their half so as to launch counter attacks.

England did not fall into that trap. They guarded their fort well leaving the Swedes no room to move ahead or execute shots. Most of the first half saw Swedish forwards surrendering possession of the ball at England’s goalmouth. As Sweden’s defence line appeared toothless, England made forays into their goalmouth. Their efforts paid off in the 30th minute.

The tall Maguire sent a powerful header from an Ashley Young corner into the net leaving Olsen stunned. In the 59th minute, Alli increased the lead with a header from Jesse Lingard’s cross.

In Moscow, Croatia’s tall, agile and energetic players are likely to play an attacking game from the start to unsettle England. Three Lions have strong defenders and their forwards too may go all out for an early goal.