As the tournament moves into the quarter-finals, England fans will be starting to believe. The once impossible dream could become a reality and many — in true English fashion — will be sizing up their potential opponents for the semi final, even before 3pm on Saturday.
On paper, England and Belgium line up very similarly, but in the game function as different as you could imagine. The wingbacks in particular have differing roles and will surely play a pivotal role should the teams meet. Where Young and Trippier are fullbacks with the license to break the lines and deliver crosses from wide, Carrasco and Meunier are more like wingers with some defensive duties. They provide the width where Hazard and Mertens come inside.
With both sets of wing-backs forming a crucial part of either side’s creative plan, the battle between them will be pivotal. England, as always will look to all their players to stay composed and bring the ball to Harry Kane, whilst they should be on the lookout for Eden Hazard, who looks in fine form this summer.
As with Belgium’s tricky inside forwards, the real threat of Brazil is carried by Neymar, Coutinho and Willian. All three are capable of gliding past a defender and all three are a constant threat at goal. If it is to be the South American side that face England should they get to the final, it will be a huge task for the three centre backs to stop the marauding runs of the talented Brazilians without breaking shape.
As seen against Colombia and Belgium previously, it is when the wing-backs are caught out of possession and the centre backs are dragged out is when they are most exposed. England will need to a far better job than Mexico at keeping the wingers and Coutinho from making the runs toward the by-line. Affording them room in our third would surely be costly. Perhaps Southgate will employ a higher press and expect impeccable utilisation of the offside trap in order to counter the top-heavy Brazilians. England’s method and willingness to play direct and route one football could be a heavy advantage when it comes to the Lion’s attack.
After France beat Argentina deservingly 4-3 in the round of sixteen, they moved level with Brazil as favourites to win the entire tournament. Their key form of attack seemed to be a swift, fluid counter that utilised the pace and power of Kylian Mbappe. The experienced professionals, notably Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud will be the ones to watch for this fixture as it will take more than just a good player to break down the systematic defence of England.
A level head will be needed as the game will surely be hotly contested. France undoubtedly have the more talented team but England have shown team ability and a system that is clearly very hard to overcome. France will need their midfield, namely Manchester United’s Paul Pogba to be able to break the press and play through the attack accurately has the England players are sure to continue to shut down the space.
While fans can be forgiven for assuming they will proceed against Sweden, a game against Croatia will be entirely different. They will pose a threat England may struggle to deal with in their current respective setups. The midfield trio of Rakitic, Modric and either Brozovic or Kovacic will likely try to dominate the England midfield and may well succeed. The England midfield has so far consisted of one deeper lying midfielder and two creative players (usually Henderson and Dele/Lingard/Loftus-Cheek respectively).
While the attacking midfielders are adept pressers of the ball, it may not be enough against the powerhouse core of Croatia. England however will take great confidence from their wide play, as Perisic flies up and down the left wing, he may find it hard to compete with the athleticism and delivery of Kieran Tripper, a contender for the Lion’s player of the tournament. It may be that Southgate changes the dynamic of his midfield slightly to combat the undeniably better Croatian counterpart.
With Croatia favourites to make the semi-final alongside England, it seems this game will be most testing. A win will certainly spell overall success regardless of the result of the final but it is they who present the most viable threat to England’s impressive tactical line-up out of the remaining teams.
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