The second of the two World Cup Semi Finals takes place at the Stadion Luzhniki in Moscow this Wednesday – and what an unexpected pairing we have! While it is easy to see France and Belgium contest the first of the two final four stage games, there were very few people that would have expected that the second World Cup finalist would come from a meeting between Croatia and England. Will Croatia reach their first final in their second final four stage match following the 1998 competition or will England reach their second final in their first Semi Final since 1990?
We preview the action with online sportsbook Intertops.eu to bring you our best World Cup picks.
Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic has concerns over goalkeeper Danijel Subasic and defender Sime Vrsaljko for this vital clash with England as the players have respective hamstring and knee injuries picked up in the Quarter Final clash with Russia. The side will be hopeful that these two key players will be fit for the final four stage match, but with them going to penalties in each of their knockout stage games it is no surprise to see players struggling at this stage of the competition.
England’s only worry is over striker Jamie Vardy who had a minor groin strain in the last 16 stage match against Colombia that saw the Three Lions triumph on penalties. He looks to be well on the way to recovery though as he made the bench against Sweden and should be available to take part in this match if needed. Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has also downplayed any concerns over a thumb injury picked up when thumping the ground in frustration against Sweden and will be fine to take his place in goal.
Croatia surprised many people by topping Group D as they defeated Nigeria 2-0, Argentina 3-0 and Iceland 2-1 in the group stages of the competition. The win over the South Americans was, by far, their best performance of the tournament as Argentina failed to marshall the Croatian midfield and were overrun completely.
The other games in the group were hard fought as Nigeria were beaten only by an own goal and a penalty, with the latter of these being the first shot on target in the 71st minute, while Iceland battled hard and closed down the Semi Finalists but were defeated on quality. Denmark and Russia followed in the knockout stages and both of these sides went toe-to-toe with Croatia before being eliminated on penalties, but surely four hours of competitive and knockout stage football since July 1st will have them tired for this game against England.
England have masterminded their way to the final four stage of the competition with them finishing second in Group G with a late 2-1 win over Tunisia before thumping Panama 6-1. The late winner against the African side was very unlike England who would have folded in recent years, but Harry Kane’s second goal of the match brought all three points and plenty of confidence for the tournament.
They rested players against Belgium and were beaten to give themselves an easier route to this stage of the competition. They faced Colombia in the last 16 round and despite dominating the game they were hit late on by the South Americans to force extra time and penalties. England shocked the world by securing victory in this scenario for the first time in their World Cup history and this gave them the confidence to cruise past Sweden 2-0 and into their first World Cup Semi Final since 1990.
These two sides have not clashed since meeting in the qualification for the 2010 World Cup when England were the far better side in both the home and away matches. The Three Lions triumphed 4-1 in Croatia before taking another three points with a fine 5-1 victory at Wembley. This saw them bounce back well from the 2-0 and 3-2 losses suffered during the qualification process for Euro 2008, but with no meetings between the teams in almost a decade how will the teams fare against each other in this pressured environment?
World Cup Semi Final Super Pick:
Having looked at both sides, we feel that Intertops have it correct with making England the favourites to win this match and reach the World Cup Final. The reason for this is that they are not Argentina who allowed Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitić far too much time on the ball in the middle of the park to orchestrate what was happening in the game. England are a solid side all over the field, are filled with confidence and, unlike Croatia who missed an extra time penalty against Denmark, are clearly the better at coping under pressure.
In addition to this, the Three Lions have bagged 11 goals in the tournament so far and with Harry Kane having netted six times we can only see England making it to their first World Cup Final since 1966.