Young, worldly-wise England braces up for Croatia challenge

Beating Croatia will take England closer to the crown for the second time.

Published : Jul 10, 2018 22:24 IST

England has scored over 70 per cent of its goals in the World Cup from set-piece situations.
England has scored over 70 per cent of its goals in the World Cup from set-piece situations.

England has scored over 70 per cent of its goals in the World Cup from set-piece situations.

“But youth has a future. The closer he came to graduation, the more his heart beat. He said to himself: “This is still not life, this is only the preparation for life.” ― Nikolai Gogol

The English youngsters – the second youngest squad in this World Cup – were not meant to have their date with destiny in the land of Gogol – not yet. The temerity of Gareth Southgate to leave the established names of the club games for a more youth-driven, team-centric approach was a means to an end, a larger plan to challenge the world order in the years ahead, breaking away from England’s burden of legacy but little success. 

The team, however, has exceeded its potential and is now just a game away from playing in the World Cup final. Southgate’s boys are graduating to the big league early, with years left in professional and national careers.

Read: Southgate's World Cup waistcoats just the right fit for London museum

The manager’s functional 3-5-2 formation has provided stability, with Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson staying behind to offer an extra cushion to the backline, but England has struggled to break deep defences to create chances from open play with eight of its 11 goals coming from set pieces (including three penalties).

“England showed from the games I've seen so far that they play direct football and they are very fast,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said. “They are really good at set-pieces and their tall players are dangerous at corners.”

However, Croatia – which has Luka Modric, the most skilled playmaker left in the competition – has the propensity to play the passing game that could play to its disadvantage. In Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard, England has two midfielders who can run behind the defenders, creating space for Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling – the two strikers – to punish the rival.


Dalic has been more adventurous, while allowing Modric – the star and inspiration of the team – maximum leeway as the Real Madrid midfielder played higher up the pitch while Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic sat deep, essaying the role of a deep-lying playmaker – much like Xavi or Xabi Alonso did for the title-winning Spain of 2008 and 2010.


With Mario Mandzukic partnering Andrej Karamaric upfront in a 4-4-2 system (against Russia), Croatia quickly swells its ranks when in possession with Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic moving forward from the flanks to have a front four that can often overawe the opponents, putting a halt to England’s plan of playing from the back.

Read: Anyone but England? The bitter truth about football rivalry in the U.K.

“They have got some fantastic players. I’ve played with Modric and he is one of the best midfielders in the world.” England defender Kyle Walker said. “But we have to just adapt ourselves to their game plan, but they also have to worry about us.”


Croatia, which gained independence in 1991, reached the World Cup semifinals –inspired by Davor Suker, the current president of the football federation – seven years later in France, and Rakitic and his comrades are keen to pen their own history. “We are not putting more pressure on ourselves with what happened in 1998,” Rakitic said. “What they did was impressive but we want to keep writing our own history and enjoy what we are doing which is very positive.”

The team understands the threat this young but worldly-wise England team possesses but Dalic will trust his team’s superior possessional play and tactical acumen to close out this game.   

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