Croatia scouting report: Verdict on England’s semi-final opponents
Lowdown on the team that will face England in Moscow
Last Updated: 07/07/18 10:32pm
England have made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time in 28 years but what lies ahead for them in Moscow on Wednesday?
Croatia defeated Russia in a penalty shootout in an absorbing quarter-final contest to progress to the last four for the second time in their history.
Here we take a closer look at the Croatia team and the threat that they pose…
Danger man: Luka Modric
Everyone in England knows all about Luka Modric. Not only is he a Real Madrid superstar who spent time at Tottenham but he was also the mastermind behind Croatia's win at Wembley over a decade ago that prevented England from even making it to Euro 2008.
He is the key figure in the centre of midfield for Croatia, making more key passes than anyone else on the pitch against Russia, including the assist for Domagoj Vida's header in extra time. His creativity is vital and he sets the entire tempo for Croatia's game.
He will look to pick up pockets of space in the centre but England will need to ensure that he does not have the time to dictate things in Moscow on Wednesday night. That will mean getting men around him to prevent him from providing the service for Mario Mandzukic.
Strength: Midfield quality
England cannot afford to only focus on Modric. Alongside him in midfield is Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic, the scorer of the winning penalty in the shootout against Russia and much more besides. The presence of the pair means that Croatia expect to dominate the ball.
They had 65 per cent of possession against Russia, 61 per cent of it against Iceland, 55 per cent against Nigeria and 54 per cent against Denmark. Only Argentina had more of the ball against them - and they were emphatically beaten 3-0 in the group stages.
It could be a real problem for an England team that can occasionally look vulnerable in there. Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli are attacking players who get ahead of the ball and that can leave Jordan Henderson looking isolated as the sole sitting midfielder.
"England do leave more space and they vacate the space in midfield," explained Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville in his studio role with ITV in Russia. "It is a strength of England but it could potentially give Croatia more space."
Weakness: Set pieces
Croatia could be tired having gone the distance in both of their knockout games but the bigger concern with this team is their ability to defend set pieces. That almost cost them as they allowed Mario Fernandes a free header to level things up deep into extra time.
It is not a new problem. Aside from Denis Cheryshev's rocket in the first half, every goal that Croatia have conceded in this tournament has been from a set piece.
There were warnings against Iceland when Sverrir Ingason had an effort tipped over following a long throw and then hit the crossbar from the resulting corner. Denmark took advantage - scrambling home in the first minute against Croatia following a long throw.
Winning the first ball from crosses is a recurring problem and something that England are well-equipped to expose. Gareth Southgate's side have scored more goals from set pieces than any other team at this World Cup. They may need to add to that tally to progress.