Semifinals Day 2

Normally, I would expect Croatia to beat England and go on to face France in the final. They are definitely the better team. But they look absolutely exhausted from their quarterfinal game and made three unforced errors in the first seven minutes, passes to no one, the sort of thing you do when you’re tired and you’re not all there.

And with England scoring on a great free kick by Trippier inside the first five minutes, it’s going to be tough for them to pull it together against a fresher, faster England team. The interesting thing is going to be in the last thirty minutes, when England is tired too and Croatia’s superior skill begins to show.

UPDATE: As I anticipated, once England’s fitness advantage wore off, Croatia’s skill began to tell. 1-1 after 90 minutes, and Croatia has all its subs. Given that furious ten minutes between the 75th minute and the 85th minute, England is fortunate to still be in it. And Croatia’s subs will be better players than England’s two subs. I don’t expect this to go to penalties; it wouldn’t surprise me if Croatia manages two goals in extra time.

POSTMORTEM: England rode a much easier route to the semifinal and it showed in their relative energy in the first half compared to an exhausted Croatia team. But once their wings and strikers weren’t able to run past the more experienced Croatian defenders with impunity, the English attack all but disappeared. Also, whoever was on England’s left wing was a complete disaster defensively, as he wasn’t tracking back to help cover the Croatian defender who caused complete havoc for most of the second half. This game wasn’t as close as it appeared; without Pickford’s heroics and with a bounce or two going Croatia’s way, it could have easily finished 4-1.

England has nothing to be ashamed of. Vardy’s injury hurt them worse than most people realized – he’s their true scorer – and I really like the way Gareth Southgate managed to his team’s strengths and improved their set plays and penalties. He has the makings of a top flight manager and it won’t surprise me if he moves on to a big club when he is ready to move on.

But the final outcome was never seriously in doubt after the first 20 minutes. Consider the key match stats in favor of Croatia.

Shots: 22-11
Shots on goal: 7-1
Final score: 2-1

I’ve personally done the research. In every league, shots on goal is the most reliable statistical indicator of wins. If you want to win, you have to put shots on goal. The goalie seldom blocks them all, and even when he does, rebounds lead to easy goals. Croatia did. England didn’t.