The 60th match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup ended the quarterfinals stage on Saturday, leaving us with only four teams to battle it out in Tuesday and Wednesday’s semifinals. France faces Belgium on July 10th, and Croatia meets the English on the 11th. Only two will make the final on July 15th, while the other two will play 25 hours before that for a bronze medal. Having observed the performances of this past week closely, can we tell which team will attend which match?

If anything has been certain about this World Cup, it’s that predictions have not mattered. Although the last four were short-listed as favorites to reach this far, with France and Belgium hailed as tournament favorites, the journey has not been easy due to the unpredictable surprises. For each of the four teams, the competition will vary, not only because of the nature of the stage they will play in, but also because of what each roster has endured to get to the semifinals.

Croatia – England

If we’re looking at minutes played, the elimination round has been the longest for Croatia so far. Both matches they’ve played have been resolved from penalties, bringing the sum total of their time on the pitch at 240 minutes, without including added time. This was not just a light jog for them.

In the Round of 16, their matchup against Denmark put them in a tough position for the first time in this edition, where a 1:1 score was penciled in within the first four minutes. For the rest of the game, both offenses were incapable in front of impenetrable defenses, taking the match to penalties. Even though Croatia won, the extended effort seemed to push the roster past their limits, causing for the medical staff to run on the grass for a total of eight times during the 120 minutes.

In the Quarterfinals, the situation was even more complicated.

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Croatian keeper Danijel Subašić falling in the 85th minute with a hamstring injury

Twice was the scoreboard tied, once from each team. The Croats erased a 1:0 deficit against the Russian hosts in the first half and deepened the score in the 101st of extra time. The 1:2 result was balanced out with a 115th Russian goal by Brazilian-born Mario Fernandes. To keep matters even more interesting, keeper Danijel Subašić had suffered a hamstring injury five minutes before the end of regulation time whistle. In addition to the keeper, two more players had hamstring injuries, making penalties at one point seem like a good option out of the matchup for Croatia.

Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, left, reacts as Croatia players celebrate after scoring the winning penalty during the quarterfinal match between Russia and Croatia at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, July 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Croatian team celebrating after Ivan Rakitić scored the game-winning penalty

Now, Croatia sees England on their next assignment. Even though the English did have their share of an excruciating 120-minute resolve in the Round of 16 against Columbia, Sweden seemed almost refreshing in comparison to what Russia offered. England won with a comfortable 0:2 against the Nordics in the quarterfinals, marking the occasion with their first return to the semifinals since their 1990 appearance.

With that being said, can we make a prediction for who will be this side’s contribution to the final?

Tactically on offense, Croatia holds the advantage of being more agile in midfield. Luka Modrić, Ivan Perišić and Ante Rebić promise for a more creative lineup to assist Mario Mandžukić. How does their line of midfield compare to the English? The Three Lions have been also proven to be dangerous by creating chances in midfield with their typical five players behind the two forwards. Ashley Young has defied age, Kieran Trippier has shown accuracy and patience on the right, and Dele Alli has shown cold-bloodlessness when shown an open goal.

English team celebrating after triumph over Sweden

Defensively, both sides have been strong, with a total of 20 blocked shots for Croatia, and 19 for England so far in the tournament. Key names are Croat Šime Vrsaljko and Englishman Harry Maguire. Both are eager to stop and to even score. An advantage for the English formation for the defense is the fact that the full backs don’t have to carry much of the load of attacking the opponent due to the five midfielders they play. In the Croatian formation, someone like Vrsaljko will have to travel a greater distance and maybe end up with a hurt hamstring (like in the match against Russia).

When comparing opponents, Russia was comparatively as dangerous as Sweden. Offensively, Russia scored more (18 Russian to six Swedish goals).  However, they were able to shoot on target less accurately than Sweden in their five World Cup appearances (19 to 21). Defensively, Russia showed a more stubborn side, conceding 14 goals, which is much less than the 23 goals Sweden has allowed.

Even though Croatia is the more seasoned, mature, and well-organized team, England holds the advantage in Wednesday’s bout. Exhaustion and injuries among the Balkanic roster will be Croatia’s weaknesses and England’s advantages, leaving very little space for a possible break of the confident English side. Croatia’s well-praised midfield, led by Modrić, hasn’t disappointed so far, but it will have a very difficult job to accomplish, as they will face a much healthier and driven side.

Kane and Modrić photo: ca.sports.yahoo.com

Subasić photo: pixaas.com

Croatian team celebrating photo: yahoo.com

English team celebrating photo: zimbio.com

Statistics: livescore.com

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