Tactical switch transforms Croatia from zero to hero
DOUBLE THREATWith Trippier and Young facing a double threat, England’s midfield began to be stretched with Jordan Henderson taking on an unmanageable work-load and Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli more pre-occupied with helping out the defenders than asking questions of Croatia’s back-line. The momentum of the game had changed and when Perisic equalised for Croatia in the 68th minute it was no real surprise. England had no answer — neither on the field as their passing game was replaced by hasty clearances and long balls forward nor on the bench as Southgate was unable to make the switches that might have changed the game. “The general all-round perception was that this is a new-look England who have changed their ways of punting long balls upfield but when we pressed them it turned out that they haven’t,” Croatia full back Sime Vrsaljko said. When things clicked for Croatia they had the quality of Modric and Rakitic, who finally began to dictate the tempo and flow of the game as many had expected they would. Southgate’s only response was to take off Sterling for Marcus Rashford, keeping the same formation and failing to tackle the areas in which Croatia were dominating. England’s lack of a genuine creative midfielder is not a new problem and Southgate has done well to devise a system that can compensate for that weakness. But his inexperienced team were unable to recapture the passing and movement and it was simply their fight that took them into extra time. Croatia were looking like the team who beat Argentina 3-0, their tails were up and Mandzukics’s opportunist finish secured a victory few could deny was deserved. They now they have the chance to use their tactical intelligence and mental strength against a formidable France team on Sunday.
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