It was a devastating defeat for both sides respectfully, with the finest of margins dictating the winners and losers. Yet the data suggests the better team in both semi-finals progressed to Moscow, in what will be a remarkable World Cup final.
Although Croatia found themselves behind early after a wonderful set-piece from Kieran Trippier, they went in at halftime having only allowed an xG count of 0.35 with Trippier’s fifth-minute strike making up 31.42% of England’s xG total within the first half.
Croatia created nothing of significance in the opening forty-five minutes, as England contained Zlatko Dalić’s side to a first-half xG total of just 0.17. Southgate’s side seemed comfortable defensively, yet they could be described as fortune heading into halftime with the lead.
Unfortunately, it was an error-riddled second half from this young English side. The Croatian pressure was a continuous flow of build-up play narrated by Luka Modríc and Ivan Rakitić, yet it was Ivan Perišić that continued to pester Southgate’s defensive line.
The twenty-nine-year-olds creative brilliance came to fruition in the sixty-eighth minute as Stones and company were caught on their heels, allowing the quick thinking Perišić enough space to find Croatia’s equaliser. The warning signs were evident as England had been caught on their heels on numerous occasions prior to Perišić finding the net.
It was a performance of significance from Perišić and it will be looked back upon as arguably one of the greatest individual performances of the 2018 World Cup. It was a clear indication that although England have produced some fantastic team performances, the lack of high-class offensive individual talent was clearly evident.
An element that simply cannot be attached with blame, with the physical and mental extremities that the whole English side exerted. They left every ouch of physical and mental effort on the field at the Luzhniki Stadium which as a coach, fan or analyst is all that you can ask of a person.
At fulltime the xG count from both sides suggested the outcome after ninety-minutes was a fair result, with England posting an xG total of 0.65 and Croatia producing an xG count of 0.82.
Yet in extra time with Croatia’s quality and some self-inflicted mistakes, the pressure continued. Jordan Pickford denied Mario Mandžukić with a point-blank save, an effort that registered the highest individual xG count from the entire game.
Only moments later Mandžukic made amends as he slammed the ball home inevitably seeing Croatia into the World Cup final. As the final whistle went, the shots of heartbreak and joy were brutal but beautiful. England ended the game with an inferior xG total to Croatia (2.09 to 0.73), the better team progressed on the day.
The heartbreak Belgium are experiencing will be very similar to that of the English, but the contrasting difference is the fact Belgium possess the individuals that are capable of winning games. Although Belgium ended the game with an xG total of just 0.53, the disappointment at possessing numerous world class players and falling short is gut-wrenching. Yet the better team progressed on the night as France registered a total xG count of 2.12, the most significant from any of the four sides in the semi-finals within ninety-minutes.
The most feared element of Belgium’s game was thwarted numerous times as N’Golo Kanté and Blaise Matuidi continued to break down the Belgian counter-attack. An area in which England will seriously struggle with as at times they have been overrun in the middle of the park.
If Roberto Martínez starts with the attacking talents of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens. It could turn out to be a long final afternoon in St Petersburg for Southgate’s side.
Although the motivation for this game must be called into question, the FA will certainly value the third-place finish as a success especially with the style that has been implemented across all levels in the English national team set-up. Yet the physical and mental excursions these English players have experienced is monumental and although the Belgian team has experienced the same drain of energy. The extra day’s rest accompanied by the individual offensive talent they possess, I feel this game will come around far too quick for this English side.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Belgium -0.50 at 2.210 and Belgium -0.75 at 2.560
Preview by: @gscurftrader.