Mullets, bowl cuts, and ridiculously tight shorts. But enough about my night out in Shoreditch, we’re here to look at England’s first World Cup semi-final since 1990.
What a summer that was. Nessun Dorma; none shall sleep. It must’ve been as hot as it has been this last week then. England stumbled through a relatively kind set of fixtures at Italia 90, and they’ve done likewise this summer.
But can they avoid the worst possible outcome this time around? No, not a penalty shoot-out defeat, but having to hang around to play a glorified friendly against France or Belgium.
Considering Croatia have scored as many goals as England, including finding the net in all five games, and have kept one clean sheet more than them at the 2018 World Cup too, their odds of 12/5 to win in normal time or 5/4 to get through look quite appealing.
And this is where the bettor’s conundrum kicks in. Should I go with my head or my heart? After all, it’s coming home, isn’t it? I’ve seen enough memes in the last few days to make me assume so.
Whatever the outcome is, the form book suggests this is going to be a close match and not one dripping in goals. These sides have played four knock-out games at this World Cup, and every one of them has seen exactly two goals scored in 90 minutes.
World Cup semi-finals don’t tend to have many goals in them either. Or at least they don’t unless you give Germany the freedom of Belo Horizonte to do whatever the hell they please, Brazil. Over the last five World Cups, seven of the ten semi-final matches have seen fewer than three goals in normal time.
Can we expect both teams to get on the score sheet? This has only happened in four of the last ten World Cup semi-final matches, and in just two of the eight this millennium.
However, Croatia haven’t kept a clean sheet since Argentina melted before their very eyes, and England have conceded in four of their five games in Russia.
The Three Lions might have kept Sweden at bay on Saturday, but the Swedes had more shots on target than they did, and England needed Jordan Pickford to make some fine saves to keep their clean sheet intact. The Everton stopper has been invincible ever since Jordan Henderson missed a penalty against Colombia. Maybe Loris Karius should slip Hendo a few quid to miss a spot kick for Liverpool this season?
While these teams haven’t met for almost nine years, both teams have netted in four of their five competitive meetings. Paddy thinks it’s more likely that at least one team fails to score, as ‘no’ is 4/6, but I’m going to say ‘yes’ to both teams to score, which is priced at 11/10. You trust me over Paddy, right?
Like everyone who talks about football on the internet, I only remember the rare occasions when I’m proved to be correct. May I refer you to my preview of the England vs Sweden match for a moment?
“Harry Maguire and John Stones have each had five shots from set pieces, and only six players at this World Cup have had more. They can be backed at 30/1 to get on the score sheet.”
Paddy even stuck up a picture of old Slabhead in the article to guide you, so I hope you all cashed in on that diamond tip. England are the top scorers of set piece goals at this World Cup, and no team left in Russia have conceded more from them than Croatia have, so I wouldn’t rule out a centre-back getting on the scoresheet once again.
Harry Kane is unsurprisingly the favourite in the goal scorer market, at 10/3 to score first or 11/8 any time, but there is an England player who has had more shots than him in Russia: Jesse Lingard.
Exclude penalties, and Lingard is four shots ahead, so he might be due a goal soon. The Manchester United midfielder’s prices look enticing too: 9/2 to score, or 10/1 to break the deadlock.
Croatia have had eight different scorers at this World Cup (only Belgium, with nine, have had more) and excluding penalties they’ve all only scored once.
My tip for them is Ivan Perisic, who is 10/1 to score first or 9/2 at some point, as he has had eight shots in the penalty box which is the most for any player on either side.
But will England prevail? Croatia have needed two penalty shoot-outs to get this far, and became only the second team to win two in a single World Cup tournament in the process.
As much as they might dominate the midfield, I’m not convinced they can sneak through for a third time, so I’m going for England to reach the final. Vincerò! (It sounds better when Pavarotti belts it out, trust me).
* All odds correct at time of posting.