Monday 16 July 2018

England ENG 2

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Croatia CRO 2 (4)

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England ENG 1

Croatia CRO 2

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Belgium BEL 2

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France FRA 4

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John Aldridge: There is an accident waiting to happen in the Croatia defence - and it could put England in the final

Soccer Football - World Cup - Quarter Final - Russia vs Croatia - Fisht Stadium, Sochi, Russia - July 7, 2018 Croatia's Dejan Lovren and Russia's Fyodor Smolov look up at the ball REUTERS/Carl Recine TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Soccer Football - World Cup - Quarter Final - Russia vs Croatia - Fisht Stadium, Sochi, Russia - July 7, 2018 Croatia's Dejan Lovren and Russia's Fyodor Smolov look up at the ball REUTERS/Carl Recine TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

John Aldridge

AS Dejan Lovren was hauled off the Wembley pitch by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp just 31 minutes into the most humiliating experience of his career against Tottenham last October, he could never imagine how the situation would turn around a few months later.

Klopp had to take Lovren off after he had been torn apart by Spurs striker Harry Kane and in truth, Liverpool did well to get to half-time in that game just conceding three goals.

Lovren was a walking disaster zone and there were doubts after that game whether he would play for Liverpool again. He was that bad and confirmed the doubts so many of us had expressed about him prior to that woeful performance.

I give Lovren credit for rebuilding his Liverpool career after that and there is no doubt that the arrival of Virgil van Dijk in the January transfer window helped him to put in a better second half of the season, but I’m still not convinced he can relied upon every time he takes to the field.

He will be under the most glaring spotlight imaginable as he leads the Croatia defence in their World Cup semi-final against England, and the sight of Harry Kane lining up against him once again might just unnerve him.

The scars left from that nightmare half-an-hour against Kane must still be there and if the England skipper can score an early goal in Moscow tonight, it will be interesting to see how Lovren reacts.

I’m still not entirely convinced by him and would suggest he is still an accident waiting to happen if the right buttons are pushed and enough pressure is applied.

For that to happen, Kane needs proper support from the three players behind him in this England team and even though they have done well to get to the semi-finals, I don’t feel he has got the backing he needs so far at this World Cup.

Kane is England’s trump card, but he has been feeding off scraps in this tournament and has done so well to come up with six goals from a combination of penalties and scrappy finishes in the box.

He could have scored even more goals if he had been given the kind of quality supply he gets from Christian Eriksen and the wide players at Spurs, but Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli have all come up short in my eyes.

Lingard scored a good goal against Panama in the group stages, but he has missed a few big chances and not created enough for Kane in wide positions.

Sterling missed some sitters in the Sweden game on Saturday and I’m not surprised in the slightest because he continues to flatter to deceive, as he has done since his early days at Liverpool.

Even though he gets himself into great positions and should score goals in even game he plays, Sterling is a terrible finisher when chances come his way and he needs to be more clinical if he gets in decent positions against Croatia tonight.

Alli has also been a big let-down at this World Cup and looks like he is carrying a knock that is restricting him in some way, with his goal against Sweden last weekend covering up his otherwise disappointing displays.

The failure of those three attacking players sparking has forced Kane to dip deeper in the last couple of matches, with the centre-forward often found drifting back to the half-way line to get a sniff of the ball and England have to make sure he is not left isolated tonight.

What England cannot do is let this chance pass them by as while Croatia are a decent team, they are not world beaters and their presence in this semi-final presents Gareth Southgate and his players with an incredible chance to reach a World Cup final. England have been very lucky with their draw at this World Cup and their best result of the competition was the 1-0 defeat against Belgium that meant they went into the bottom half of the draw, avoiding Brazil and a few others in the knock-out phase.

I think they could be home already if they had been in that top half of the draw, but they can only beat the teams put in front of them and while I rarely get behind England at the World Cup, I hope they get to the final and win it now.

Southgate has done a good job of taking the ego out of this England team and the media charm offensive allowing fans to get to know some of the players has been great to see.

Just for once, England are quite likeable and while I am still not convinced they are a very good team, they could be playing in a World Cup final on Sunday.

Tonight’s game is a 50-50 toss up for me and it could go either way, but I would like to see England booking their place in the biggest game in football by beating Croatia.

Herald Sport

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