ENGLAND, CROATIA MAKE RETURN

England and Croatia will relish the return to their first World Cup semi-final appearance this millennium when they meet at the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday.

Croatia’s one and only semi-final match coming back in their first-ever World Cup in 1998 and England having not reached this stage in a World Cup since 1990.

The pressure on these sets of players is similarly overwhelming, but the two quarter-final clashes that these teams won couldn’t be much more different.

Croatia were engaged in a 120 minute battle with host nation Russia, often finding themselves on the back foot against the surprisingly good hosts and only making it through via a panic inducing penalty shootout.

England, on the other hand, strolled to a rather comfortable 2-0 win over a lacklustre Sweden side just a few hours before Croatia’s epic battle.

Both teams well and truly deserve to be in this position, but only one can progress to the final on Sunday.

The difference in these two quarter final clashes could actually play an important role in the semi-final.

Croatia have been taken to penalties in both of their knock-out stages matches so far, and by the end of the game on Saturday they certainly seemed to be feeling the effects.

Sime Vrsaljko was forced off injured and goalkeeper Danijel Subasic was nursing his hamstring at the end of the game, while at the other end of the pitch Mario Mandzukic looked out on his feet.

These 120 minute marathons and the mental toil of a penalty shootout are draining both physically and mentally, so by comparison England had a rather easy evening in Russia.

They held possession for long periods against Sweden and were rarely threatened at the back, and the first half headed goal from Harry Maguire settled the building tension before it got to a point where it was too mentally taxing.

Maguire, along with the other Harry Kane in the England team, is proving to be a real game changer for the Three Lions.

He has won the most aerial battles of any defender at the tournament, and England are well and truly taking advantage of this.

They have aimed for him 20 times from set pieces, more than any other player at the World Cup, and he has won a huge 22 aerial battles in just the last two matches.

With England scoring five of their goals from set pieces and Croatia conceding two of their four from set plays, Maguire will surely be of a great threat to the Croatian backline.

Of course, ignoring Harry Kane would be criminal. The England captain leads the race for the Golden Boot in Russia with six goals and has scored in seven of his last eight appearances for the Three Lions.
 

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