England are hoping to reach their first FIFA World Cup final since 1966 tonight, when they take on Croatia in the semi-finals of Russia 2018. The Three Lions gave a commanding performance against Sweden at the weekend, but now face a far tougher challenge against a Croatian side brimming with world class talent.
It’s hard to escape the buzz that currently surrounds Gareth Southgate’s England squad. Having arrived in Russia with relatively low expectations, England fans are finally allowing themselves to dream the impossible dream that just maybe, their team can win the FIFA World Cup. While endless chants of “It’s coming home” have echoed around the UK over the last few days, there is still an inherent feeling that England are yet to face a side that have truly put them through their paces, and tonight’s game could ultimately be decided by the exploits of one or two key players.
One of those players is Luka Modric – a man that rarely gives a mediocre performance for either club or country. Modric arrived at the World Cup off the back of a third consecutive Champions League title with domestic club Real Madrid, and the 32-year-old has continued his fine form throughout Croatia’s campaign.
A quick look at Modric’s stats confirms that he has been the stand out performer for Croatia, playing more minutes (485), covering more ground (50.8km), making more passes (305), and scoring more goals (2) than any of his teammates. Modric’s unique blend of hard work, creativity, and the ability to dictate the game from the middle of the park poses a real threat for England, and Gareth Southgate finds himself facing a huge dilemma ahead of tonight’s match. Does the England manager stick with a winning formula, or does he opt for a more defensive approach to keep Modric at bay?
Should Southgate wish to strengthen England’s defences, he may consider starting Tottenham’s Eric Dier, whom prior to this summer’s tournament was expected to play a key role for the Three Lions. Dier was introduced in the 81st minute of England’s round of 16 clash against Colombia, and many pundits pointed out that he failed to adapt to the pace of the game. There’s no doubting that Dier would provide security for the back line, but his inclusion would mean sacrificing one of England’s more attack-minded midfielders, which would likely be either Jesse Lingard or Dele Alli.
This is perhaps the first real selection dilemma that Southgate has faced, so be sure to keep an eye on the starting XI tonight, and if Dier is on the pitch, prepare for a nervy 90 minutes of football.