We’re down to the final four and an all-European World Cup final beckons. Croatia and England have done remarkably well to make it this far, and it’s incredible that one of these teams will be playing in the world’s biggest match in just a few days time.
Croatia went on a remarkable run at the 1998 World Cup, falling at this same stage to eventual winners France, and there is plenty to like about the Balkan nation coming into this match. Names like Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic are household in Europe, and it’s unlikely a country of Croatia’s size will produce such a talented squad in the near future. It’s now or never for the Croatians.
But while Croatia are perennial over-achievers on the world stage, England are exactly the opposite. The nation that invented the game has consistently disappointed over the years, and despite their 1966 triumph on home soil, the English have never made it back to the final stage.
Yet there’s a different feeling about this England side. It is an old adage that the World Cup is a young man’s game, and it’s plain to see that youth is the common denominator among successful sides at this tournament. Were you shocked at Germany and Argentina’s early exits? One quick look at their average age tells you all you need to know. France, Belgium and England’s young stars have run amok, and this is one of the key reasons why we think England will win this match.
Croatia aren’t an overly old side, and they were clinical in their 3-0 win over Argentina in the group stages, but two straight marathon matches will certainly have resulted in some heavy legs. England by contrast breezed through their match against Sweden and will surely be the more energetic of the two sides on Wednesday evening.
There is almost no relevant historical context for this matchup. England destroyed Croatia 4-1 and 5-1 during the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, although they haven’t met since. As it is, there have only been seven meetings in total between the teams.
England start as the favourite, and we can only imagine it is because of the difficulty Croatia had in knocking off Denmark and Russia in their last two knockout matches. Croatia boast the bigger names, yet there is a sense that after two penalty shootout victories their luck is about to run out.
We agree with this sentiment, and believe England will win in regulation time. A 2-1 victory is our pick, and football will be one step closer to coming home.