England Face World Cup Acid Test Against Classy Croatia
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England Face World Cup Acid Test Against Classy Croatia

For the sixth game in a row at this summer’s World Cup, England head into their match as favourites. And the market makers’ view means that England are favourites to reach the World Cup final.

A little under two year ago, Sam Allardyce was in charge of England and Wayne Rooney was his captain. Fast forward to July 2018, and the Three Lions are one win away from a shot at World Cup glory. Drink that in for a moment.

Aside from the final group game with Belgium, it came as no surprise that Gareth Southgate’s England were favourites. The Three Lions were superior to Tunisia, Panama, Colombia and Sweden; the market makers were vindicated in their positions as they emerged victorious.

The one blemish on England and the bookmakers’ record was the loss to Belgium, but in truth not too much should be read into that game as both fielded second XIs and either side did not want victory.

So the market makers have an excellent record, and England fans will be praying that they’ve got it right again – with 188BET pricing the Three Lions up at 1.65 to advance, with Croatia at 2.36.

This might not a popular opinion, but the nagging feeling is that the market makers have this one wrong. To my eye, Croatia go into this game as slight favourites.

They emerged from a difficult Group D as pool winners, after securing wins over Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria. Their route through the knockout stage has been tougher, as they’ve required penalties to see off Denmark and Russia. But despite being taken to the limit, they were the better side on both occasions.

The Croatia squad is packed with quality, especially a midfield that is orchestrated by Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic; it must be noted that Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovacic can’t get a starting berth.

Modric and Rakitic are likely to ensure Croatia dominate the ball, which could frustrate England who are yet to face a quality opponent, and much will depend on how a rugged England defence which has been good so far deals with the physical threat of Juventus centre forward Mario Mandzukic.

Defensively, Croatia have proved extremely solid – with Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren forging an excellent understanding with Domagoj Vida, who you certainly won’t miss on account of his striking ponytail. Taking on the Croatia back line will not faze Harry Kane, but they will let the Tottenham man know he is in a game.

For all Croatia’s strengths, they are not bomb proof. They have been dealt a huge blow with the news star right back Sime Vrsaljko will miss the game on account of injury, and ex-Tottenham man Vedran Corluka is not the same threat.

There is also the nagging doubt that fitness could be an issue for Croatia, who are famed for their work ethic but may have had life sapped from their legs by two trips to penalties so far.

I feel Croatia are favourites, but only narrowly and this is a game balanced on a knife-edge. There’s plenty to recommend both sides and it could come down to a slice of luck or heaven forbid an error that tips the balance.

Whatever the outcome in Moscow, it will be gripping entertainment and an occasion not to be missed.

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