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Croatia vs England: Extra energy gives England the edge

Croatia vs England Match Preview and Predictions

England are the favourites to reach their first World Cup final on foreign soil heading into their semi-final against Croatia in Moscow.

A young and inexperienced Three Lions team is looking to go one better than Bobby Robson's men at Italia 90, who were famously beaten on penalties by Germany, and set up a showdown with France on Sunday.

Croatia last reached the semi-finals in 1998 when they were beaten by hosts and eventual winners France, and this is the first time they have progressed beyond the group stage since then.

Croatia vs England Betting Tips

The lowdown

Both teams eased through their group but have needed three penalty shoot-outs between them to make it to the semi-finals.

Croatia were one of three teams to win all their group matches despite a tough draw which pitted them against Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland. They then held their nerve to get past Denmark on penalties after Luka Modric had missed from the spot in extra time.

They suffered a scare in their quarter-final after going behind to Russia but eventually came through on penalties again after a 2-2 draw.

England also needed a shoot-out against Colombia after conceding an injury-time equaliser but Saturday's 2-0 win against Sweden was a relatively comfortable victory.

There have been plenty of memorable encounters between the two countries, even though the last came almost a decade ago.

The Three Lions won 5-1 that night at Wembley to seal their qualification for the 2010 World Cup, having also won the reverse fixture 4-1 when Theo Walcott scored a hat-trick.

Croatia twice beat England during the Euro 2008 qualifiers though, including in a decisive game on a wet night at Wembley when Steve McClaren's reign ended after a 3-2 loss that meant England missed the tournament.

Four of the five previous meetings between the teams have produced over 2.5 goals, including 24 in total.

First goalscorer tips

Raheem Sterling's performances continue to be scrutinised and criticised by some but his pace and runs beyond Sweden's back line were England's biggest attacking threat.

The Manchester City man netted 18 goals in the Premier League last season and although his finishing has so far let him down in Russia, he could again be the key to England reaching the final. Gareth Southgate has kept faith in him and Sterling can repay him by opening the scoring at 13/2.

Anytime goalscorer tips

We highlighted England's threat at set-pieces in our England vs Sweden preview and were rewarded with a 12/1 winner when Harry Maguire headed them in front from a corner.

John Stones has also scored twice during the World Cup and the centre-backs provide plenty of value for punters looking for big odds with their goalscorer bets so we're going with Stones to net his third of the tournament at 11/1.

Where the game will be won or lost

Croatia's strength clearly lies in the centre of midfield where Real Madrid's Luka Modric and Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic can dominate possession.

Ivan Perisic is a constant threat down the left wing and England will need to balance keeping the Inter MIlan star quiet while still getting Kieran Trippier forward down the right.

The one factor in England's favour could be their extra energy. Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has admitted that playing 120 minutes twice in the space of six days was not ideal and that some of his players are now carrying injuries, so he could be forced into changes.

Dalic's team looked exhausted as they laboured against unfancied hosts Russia on Saturday night so England can take control if they can play at a high tempo.

The pace of England's forwards clearly worries Dalic, who said when assessing England: "I wouldn't say there are any glaring weaknesses - they are in the semi-finals, that says it all.

"They showed from the games I've seen so far that they play direct football and they are very fast. They are really good at set-pieces and their tall players are dangerous at corners.

"I think Raheem Sterling is an important player because he is really fast and his combination with Harry Kane is really dangerous."

Tottenham striker Kane will be up against Dejan Lovren and the Liverpool defender was substituted after just 31 minutes when the pair met in Premier League action last October. By that point Kane had scored one and set up another by torturing his marker who showed, according to Thierry Henry, "raw fear".

The England man would seem to have the psychological edge in this battle and Lovren was annoyed by a question about that match at yesterday's press conference.

"That defeat is completely irrelevant," he said. "Why didn't you ask me about when I played well against him? You are just nitpicking a bad performance.

"I've got the utmost respect for him - he's been banging goals in for Spurs for several seasons - but he's not alone, his team-mates play at top clubs, so it will be difficult. But if we are ready and compact like we were against Argentina, I don't believe we'll have any problems."

Fitness and injuries can make a big difference at this stage of the tournament and England also had the opportunity to rest players in their final group game against Belgium.

We think that gives them the edge and we're backing England to win in 90 minutes at 27/20 for our Croatia vs England betting tips.

Getting in front in the first half, just as they did against Sweden, could be vital. England have looked particularly strong in the first 45 minutes before fading in the later stages and we like odds of 17/5 for England to win the first half 1-0.

For the last of our Croatia vs England predictions, we're going with England to win and both teams to score at 5/1. These two teams have scored 21 goals between them in Russia and both should relish playing against a team which is likely to be more attacking than their previous opponents during the knockout stage.

Croatia put three goals past Argentina and have the midfield players capable of unlocking any defence.

Team news

England have a clean bill of health, with all 23 players having been put through their paces at the Spartak Zelenogorsk stadium on Tuesday morning ahead of a flight to the Russian capital.

Jordan Henderson was a fitness worry with a tight hamstring but trained fully alongside Jamie Vardy, who missed Saturday's win over Sweden with a groin injury.

Croatia right-back Sime Vrsaljko is a fitness doubt after being forced off injured during extra time against Russia. Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic is fit despite struggling with a hamstring injury during the closing stages of the quarter-final.

Traders' Tips - View from the trading floor

Croatia will provide England with their toughest test so far in the tournament, but having gone all to way to penalties in their last two ties, we expect this to take its toll on their attempts to qualify for the final against England's young stars. England captain Harry Kane has had a fantastic World Cup and after a quiet game against Sweden we're backing him to rise to the occasion and lead the Three Lions to a memorable victory in Moscow. At 5/2, Harry Kane to score and England to win looks to be the standout bet in this one.

80+ Minute Goal Insurance: Applies to all matches in the World Cup tournament. Stake refunded as a Free Bet up to €/$/£20 if a goal after 80:00 turns a winning Match Result bet into a loser. Goals scored in Extra Time or Penalty Shootouts do not count. T&Cs apply.

Read Igor Biscan's exclusive view on the match

Andrew McDermott
@a_mcdermott in World Cup