Ray Parlour: Croatia will be a much tougher proposition than Sweden

The former Arsenal and England midfielders thinks England impressed against Sweden, but face a stiffer test versus Croatia...

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I was never worried watching England v Sweden. I always felt they were in control, that every single person on the pitch for England had control of what they were trying to do.

Obviously the first goal was going to be very important in a game against Sweden, because defensively they are quite strong. After that, Jordan Pickford made a couple of saves but I thought England were the ones more likely to get the second goal in the match.

The game was well-managed and it was a good performance. It wasn’t an easy victory, but it was one that never really looked in doubt once the game got underway. Gareth Southgate has done exactly what he had to do. I always thought it would be the same team as versus Colombia, and they went out and did the job. It was fantastic.

The lads have been playing with a lot of confidence and they didn’t let the manager or the fans down.

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Sweden were poor, and I expected a little bit better from them. I thought they might be a more direct. They were wary of the pace England had, yet there was still space behind their defence. As a player I would have said “right, Sterling, you play on someone’s shoulder and as soon as we get the ball in midfield we’re going to chip over the top for you.”

A player like him can give someone five yards and still get the ball.

Overall, Sweden have overachieved. I spoke to Anders Limpar, a former Arsenal and Sweden winger, before the tournament and he said, “look, we can’t score goals. We’ll be lucky if we get out of the group.” So in Sweden the fans were realistic, and considered the team to have done very well to get this far. It seemed to look as if the players believed that as well.

RAHEEM STERLING AND CREATIVITY

I thought Raheem played alright. You’re always going to get a scapegoat, but I thought he did ok. His runs behind were very good. He had a couple of chances and sometimes the end product could be a little bit better – but he’s always got that pace to trouble defences.

I’m looking to the semi-final and there won’t be any changes. Everyone has emerged fit and healthy, and the starters against Sweden will definitely line up versus Croatia. There won’t be any tweaks – these players deserve an opportunity to play in a World Cup semi-final.

So I’m with Raheem, I support him.

There are people who want him to miss out on certain games but I always thought he can hurt opponents. If he can improve a little on his end product he could be even better.

A lot has been said about the team not scoring from open play. Against Sweden another set play opened the scoring, but at the end of the day goals win you games. It doesn’t matter how you score them so long as you score them. I’ve got no problem with them relying on set pieces.

People have mentioned changing the system and switching to 4-4-2 and getting more bodies forward. But I was very happy with the latest performance. For 20 minutes it looked like it might be a stalemate and a tough game for both sides but in the end England got the first goal, which was vital.

THE SEMI-FINAL

We know about Croatia’s midfield. It’s the strongest part of their team. I love Luka Modric, he’s a great little player. There’s also Ivan Rakitic and, up front, Mario Mandzukic. The spine of their team is very strong, and it will be important for England to exploit the flanks as much as possible.

Trippier should continue to get forward as much as he has in this competition, and the same goes for Ashley Young on the other side. It’s going to be a tough game – the opposition are much better than Sweden.

But England will be delighted they’re not going up against someone like France or Belgium.

England will be favourites, but that’s probably more down to people backing them rather than for football reasons. If you were a betting man, the value is on Croatia because everyone will pile onto England.

I tipped Croatia at the start to maybe get to the final. I’m really hoping England can do it but it will be a much trickier game and could go to extra time.

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What do you think?