England aim to step on the gas

England captain Harry Kane (right) and Phil Jones having a bit of fun with a toy rooster during training as they prepare to take on Croatia in the World Cup semi-finals. Confidence is high in the England camp and they believe they will not chicken ou
England captain Harry Kane (right) and Phil Jones having a bit of fun with a toy rooster during training as they prepare to take on Croatia in the World Cup semi-finals. Confidence is high in the England camp and they believe they will not chicken out when they face strong opponents.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Three Lions likely to retain attacking line-up, believe they have edge over fatigued Croatia

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Croatia v England

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REPINO • England insist that they will not abandon their front-foot approach against Croatia as Gareth Southgate considers selecting an unchanged side for the country's biggest match in 28 years.

The confidence coursing through Southgate's squad was apparent before today's World Cup semi-final showdown as his players maintained they have achieved nothing yet and vowed to be bold as they seek to reach Sunday's final.

Southgate has adopted an attacking blueprint and midfielder Eric Dier rejected suggestions that England may have to be more cautious against more adept opponents.

"We want to continue in the same style that we have been playing until now," he said. "Why would we change, given how far we have come playing as we have?

"We never want to be reactive, we want to be proactive and that is the most important thing. When you play against stronger opposition, it is natural to be more defensive but that doesn't mean we change our style or we change our mentality.

ALL-OUT ATTACK

We never want to be reactive, we want to be proactive... When you play against stronger opposition, it is natural to be more defensive but our style is to play on the front foot.

ERIC DIER, England midfielder, on how his team plan to tackle Croatia today.

"Our style is to play on the front foot. That is what the manager wants from us and that is what the players believe in as well."

Ironically, Dier would benefit from a change in personnel and approach.

Croatia have arguably the strongest central midfield pairing of the tournament in Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic and Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric, while England have been playing with just one holding midfielder, Jordan Henderson.

Southgate has the option of strengthening that area by bringing in Dier and shoring up the middle of the park. But that would mean sacrificing one of the attacking midfield trio - Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling - which risks upsetting the balance of the formation and reducing England's effectiveness with the ball.

Southgate's own words suggest he will continue with his attacking formation and personnel.

Asked what he would be demanding from his players, the manager told ITV: "To be able to keep doing what we have been doing, play with real defensive discipline, good organisation, tactical awareness and then with the ball play with the freedom and expression that we have and the same patterns and movements that we have shown."

England believe that they will have an edge in one department - the physical battle - following the strain heaped on their rivals by successive penalty shoot-outs.

"It is very demanding on the body to go 120 minutes and then fly back to your base as well," England wing-back Ashley Young said.

"It could be a major advantage to us and work in our favour. That said, it's a World Cup semi-final and players will do everything they can, putting their bodies on the line, to play."

Some of the Croatia players looked out on their feet during extra time against Russia and bodies have started to buckle.

Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic had carried a hamstring problem into the quarter-final, which he felt at the end of normal time only to play on after treatment, while the right-back Sime Vrsaljko was forced off in extra time with a knee injury.

But Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic is confident that his men have more to offer.

"Of course there is some power left for the English," said the 51-year-old, whose side had one day less to recover from their exertions compared to England.

"We will not stop, we will try to play to get the best out of ourselves. We have two matches to play, we are very motivated, we will give our all."

While Croatia are one win away from achieving their best result at a World Cup, forward Andrej Kramaric revealed that the players are not burdened by expectations.

"The biggest pressure for us was in the game against Denmark in the round of 16. Now we are enjoying what is happening," he said.

"When the game starts, there will be a bit of pressure but we are enjoying the fact that we are here in the World Cup semi-finals.

"It would be a fantastic achievement for Croatia to play the World Cup final, it's our dream and we will do the best to fulfil it."

THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2018, with the headline 'England aim to step on the gas'. Print Edition | Subscribe