INCREDIBLY England are now just one win away from the 2018 World Cup final. Dan McCulloch (@danmcc84) shares his best bets for this crucial match on Wednesday evening against Croatia.
England v Croatia | Wednesday 11th July 2018, 19:00 | ITV
These two sides have certainly been the benefactors of the old adage ‘you can only beat what is in front of you’; I don’t think either team would have believed you if you had offered them this route to the semi-final.
Croatia’s victory over Argentina looks like an outlier given their performances in other matches. I don’t think they were great in their opening game against Nigeria. Their opponents were woeful but Croatia barely create a chance of note themselves in that 2-0 victory, with Zlatko Dalic’s men benefitting from a penalty and an own goal.
I also feel like the margin of victory against a rudderless Argentina flattered them and while the Iceland game featured a much-changed side, they have looked distinctly average for large parts against both Denmark and Russia.
They have needed a penalty shoot-out to get past both opponents and the fact that they looked out on their feet against in extra time on Saturday prevents me from backing them at a seemingly attractive 5/2 in the 90 minute market.
In what is almost certain to be a tight encounter, I would rather back them than oppose them at 15/11 in the ‘To qualify’ market as – without meaning to dampen the hopes of a nation – I really still do not know what to make of England.
Tunisia and Panama were two of the poorest sides in this competition and from an England perspective it is concerning that they have created relatively little from open play since the opening 20 minutes of the tournament. They have been heavily reliant on set pieces and I think that is their most likely route to goal in this encounter.
It is generally felt that opposing goals in the knockout stages of the World Cup is a profitable avenue and I certainly believe that is the case at the semi-final stage. Games certainly start slowly and going back to 1990, there have been just 12 goals in first halves of those 14 matches, with five of them coming in Germany’s 5-0 demolition of Brazil four years ago.
Nine of those 14 matches have been 0-0 at half-time, and with that in mind, I believe the 151/100 Marathon are offering on such a scoreline represents excellent value.
As stated earlier, England’s main threat in this tournament has been from set pieces; Whilst Croatia have a fair bit of height at the back, so did Sweden and Southgate’s side caused them no end of problems from crosses into the box.
The Croats conceded from a free-kick against Russia last time out, so I would like to keep Harry Maguire (35/1 188Bet) and John Stones (40/1 Sportingbet) on side in the first goal scorer market.
As well as his goal, Maguire won numerous headers in the Swedish box on Saturday afternoon while Stones scored twice against Panama and also had another header denied by an incredible save against Tunisia. I might well have a play in the anytime market come kick off but in what is expected to be a low-scoring encounter, I think both a worth a small stake at inflated prices.
England v Croatia – 0-0 half-time (151/100 Marathon)
England v Croatia – John Stones first goalscorer (40/1 Sportingbet)
England v Croatia – Harry Maguire first goalscorer (35/1 188Bet)