Russia 2018: 4 Reasons Croatia Could Beat England
The 2018 FIFA World Cup has almost reached its climax.
The big names were shown the way out quite early and we have been left with an all European semi-final and final.
South America, Africa and Asia had moments to celebrate but those were just brief spells.
The European domination of this edition of the World Cup has left behind samba and flair in preference for technique and ruthlessness in front of goal.
The flaws of Africa, Asia and South America will be discussed in another piece.
For today all eyes will be on whether or not Harry Kane is the messiah English Football has been waiting for since 1966.
To my mind the English national team carefully followed its plan to perfection - aviod Brazil and France early on; stick to what we do best - run and score set pieces; do not allow matches to go beyond 90 minutes.
I truly salute the courage and professionalism shown by Gary Southgate and his young squad.
However, here are 4 reasons I believe Croatia owns this World Cup.
1. Luka Modric - Playmaker, leader, inspiration and tireless worker. Modric has proven to be the brain-box of the Red and White checkers.
His passing accuracy, ability to dictate the pace of football matches and willingness to step up each time it matters will be a problem for Henderson, Maguire and Lingard.
The 32 year old has been in winning mode since Zinedine Zidane took over at Real Madrid.
Modric, who used to play for Tottenham in the EPL, knows this English national team and understands the strength they have while running at you.
His calmness and confidence on the ball, his position off the ball make him quite difficult to mark.
2. The Croatian Squad
The Vatreni (Blazers) have been simply magical since the start of the tournament. Their worst performance was against Nigeria's Super Eagles (a match they won 2-0).
Since then, the white and red checkers have been magnificent. Their work rate, tenacity and energy to go beyond 90 minutes have been admirable.
They were the only team with enough confidence to change 9 players from the first and still earn all 3 points.
This came after securing 6 points in Group D that had Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland.
The Croatians know how to win and always have that edge over their opponents - Denmark and Russia were two very tough bones to crack.
3. John Stones, Maguire and Walker
These 3 defenders have not faced any world class striker since the start of the tournament.
When they faced Belgium, Lukaku was dropped and Batshuayi was able to dominate the back line with Januzaj getting the crucial goal.
These defenders are young and athletic but are often gittery when the ball is floated mid air. Juve's talisman, Mario Mandžukic would be delighted to take on this backline.
Coming into the game - England has conceded 4 goals while Croatia has given away just 2.
4. Croatia Come In As The Underdogs
England is ranked 12th and Croatia are ranked 20th by FIFA (as at June 2018).
If both coaches are honest, they will admit that before Russia 2018 started, they would not have anticipated reaching this stage.
England come into this encounter led by Harry Kane, a motivated Dele Alli and goalkeeper, Pickford who has had an amazing performance so far.
Croatia have endured two grueling 120-minute epics, with nerve-shredding penalty shootout wins in the knockout rounds so far against Denmark and the hosts.
England overcame their own penalty hex in the Round of 16 against Colombia, winning a first World Cup shootout at the fourth time of asking before easing past Sweden in the last eight.
Surely, this first World Cup meeting between the pair will have a historic outcome.
Croatia were defeated by hosts France back in 1998, meaning they have never reached a World Cup Final, while the Three Lions have only reached the Final once before, when they lifted their sole World Cup Trophy more than half-a-century ago - on home soil in 1966.
However, history will favour the brave tonight especially now that the home fans will be quite neutral.