It’s nearly here, so close we can touch it. On Wednesday evening England take on Croatia in the biggest, most meaningful Three Lions fixture since 1996 and the excitement across the nation is palpable. So are the nerves, the awful, jittery tension that is only going to get worse as kick-off approaches.
Nobody is expecting a classic and certainly very few of us are anticipating goals aplenty. Instead, like most semi-finals, never mind ones that are the last threshold before making it all the way to World Cup legend, the contest will most likely be decided by individual match-ups.
The four below will be key.
Jordan Henderson v Luka Modric
It is fair to suggest that the engaging Gareth Southgate’s directive to his players concerning the twinkling Croat will not be to deprive him of space and time on the ball because a/ that is a given and b/ once Modric is in possession he can hurt any team no matter how fiercely they press.
No, the best way to limit the Real Madrid midfielder’s impact is to cut off his supply line wherever possible and stop the ball getting to him in the first place and so, in this regard, perhaps Raheem Sterling is a more appropriate choice than Henderson? Even so, Modric WILL get on the ball and WILL dictate play which means England’s captain has one heck of a job on this hands in the Luzhniki Stadium doing what he can to make his ninety minutes plus as uncomfortable as possible. England’s legacy depends on it.
Harry Kane v Dejan Lovren
One of the clearest reasons why England are favourites to triumph according to the odds given in this World Cup Tracker is the goal-scoring form of Kane and the Spurs star will fancy his chances here of adding to his already impressive haul in Russia. Last season for their respective club sides it was the striker who won out scoring three times against his opponent and though Lovren has generally revised people’s negative perception of him at Russia 2018 he will be fearing this encounter more than any so far.
Mario Mandzukic v Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker
There are few better strikers in the world at working a defence single-handedly than the Juventus ace and though the 32 year old will seek support from the able Kramaric the majority of the game will be spent probing spaces between the back three. The more central Stones will presumabky be left to his own devises as Mandzukic tests the nous of Maguire and Walker in turn hoping for a momentary lapse in concentration that allows him to dart into the channels.
As we witnessed in Croatia’s bore-fest v Denmark all he needs is that split-second to pounce and though the duo have been excellent throughout the tournament they must continue their high vigilance this Wednesday or else.