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What to look out for on World Cup Day 26

Remember Costa Rica four years ago, when Roy Hodgson claimed England’s goalless draw had “given the fans something to cheer about” on their way home?

 



What about Wayne Rooney, barking down the barrel of the camera as fans booed the Three Lions after another turgid display in South Africa?

How about Iceland or Steve McClaren’s bloody umbrella? All those God awful friendlies in a half-empty Wembley on a freezing November night?

Remember all that as you sit down to watch England tonight. Because they’re in the semi-final of a World Cup, and no one, probably not even the players, thought that was going to happen so soon.

But where will their game against Croatia be won and lost in Moscow? What is exactly is it you should be looking out for?

Well we’re glad you asked.

Sterling’s value continues to rise

 

He may not have scored yet at the World Cup – in fact, he hasn’t found the net for England since 2015. But Raheem Sterling continues to be the most important cog in Gareth Southgate’s attacking machine. His tireless energy and clever movement may have gone under the radar to the casual viewer at home, but ask anyone in the camp and they’ll tell you just what the Manchester City man does for this team.

Against Sweden, it was his running in behind the created the space for Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli to exploit, and that’s going to be equally vital in Moscow on Wednesday. Coming up against an ageing Croatia back line, Sterling’s going to be absolutely vital if they want to make it all the way to the final.

240 minutes and counting

How big an issue is freshness going to be this evening? Jordan Henderson admitted that he was feeling it in his legs during England’s quarter-final against Sweden, having gone all the way to penalties versus Colombia in the previous round.




What about those Croatia players then? They’ve played 240 minutes so far in their two knockout matches, and looked absolutely spent going into spot kicks on Saturday against the hosts. Goalkeeper Danijel Subašić aggravated a hamstring injury whilst Mario Mandzukic could barely jump as he lost his man for Russia’s equaliser.

Of course, the adrenaline of a World Cup semi-final will get them through most of the match, but in those dying seconds, with Marcus Rashford in full flight, the Croats are going to have to dig extraordinarily deep.

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