The football world’s attention on Wednesday night will turn to the World Cup semi-final between Croatia and England. Obviously, I am heavily biased when it comes to my hopes and expectations. However, one man that could severely dash English hopes of winning World Cup 2018 is Croatia captain Luka Modric.
Modric is a top player
Luka Modric joined Tottenham a decade ago, with very little known about the Croatian playmaker. There was certainly no fanfare on his arrival. However, over the four years he played his football in North London he became a top player.
He showed vision, flair and the eye for a pass which he has demonstrated since for Real Madrid and Croatia on a regular basis. As he has grown older, he has learnt how to influence games more than in his younger years.
As he has matured as a person and a player, his football intelligence has improved. At 32, he now looks to be at the peak of his powers alongside Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic in the centre of midfield. However, it is when he is used in a more advanced role that he suddenly becomes a more significant threat to the opposition defence. He is a scorer of outstanding goals, but not an outstanding goalscorer.
Rakitic is a midfielder who uses the ball intelligently, while also being a good screen for his defence when used in a defensive midfield position.
Pair breaking bad news for England
As somebody who watches Barcelona on a regular basis, I like Ivan Rakitic. However, I do not believe he is as influential as his midfield teammate. He does not provide the same level of penetration as his captain.
Croatia are likely to use defensive midfielder Marcelo Brozovic to screen the backline against England, which allows Rakitic and Modric to provide more of an attacking threat.
Rakitic and Modric breaking could mean a long 90 minutes for England holding midfielder Jordan Henderson. The Liverpool midfielder has enjoyed a stellar tournament so far in Russia. He could have a big job on his hands dealing with the pair on Wednesday night, though. It may even mean one of the centre-backs pushing out further, which the likes of Harry Maguire and John Stones are accustomed to doing.
However, if any of the England back three breaks out then that will leave space for the lone frontman or wingers to exploit. The battle in the centre of the pitch could be crucial to the outcome of the clash.
The game could go either way
Wednesday’s game will be between two very evenly matched teams. In terms of experience, Croatia have the edge. In terms of pace and energy, England looks the stronger in those departments.
At the minute, England are favourites to beat Croatia at odds of 11/8. However, this game could very easily go either way. For both teams reaching the final would be a historic moment.
Croatia have never made it to a World Cup final, while England have only made the final on one previous occasion, which was, of course, the famous 1966 final at Wembley against Germany.
In fact, England have only made the semi-finals on two previous occasions and Croatia once, so both teams are slightly threading an unfamiliar path in Russia.
For both teams, this could be their hardest game of the World Cup so far. Both sides will believe that they can make it to final. Only time will tell who makes it through, but if England manages to stop Croatia’s influential midfield duo, then they have a superb chance of making Sunday’s final.
Can England stop Modric and Rakitic to make Sunday’s World Cup final?
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