Danny Welbeck’s England face first major challenge against Croatia by the Betfair ambassador Michael Ballack
As a former Chelsea player, I have seen the huge hype building up around Gareth Southgate and the England team. Southgate deserves a lot of plaudits for the team’s performances. He has taken care of all the basics and has the team working well together. They have a good squad depth and know what they need to do in order to win a game.
England did not have an overly difficult route to the semi-final but they have overcome every obstacle they faced with some solid performances. I don’t think they will be nervous about being in a World Cup semi-final. In their victory over Sweden, they showed a lot of stability and awareness. The body language was positive, and even the younger and less experienced players were not overawed by the occasion. I am sure that they will show this same attitude against Croatia. The keeper, Jordan Pickford, has been one of the standouts of the tournament. He has been integral to their success.
As for their opponents on Wednesday, Croatia will be the first major challenge the Three Lions will face. Even though they needed two penalty shootout wins to get to the semis, you can see that they are a team packed with quality and an enormous will to win. They are a strong squad but not an unbeatable team for England.
I expect the teams to be evenly matched, giving viewers an exciting semi-final.
Maguire one of my star men
Aside from Pickford, I have been really impressed with Russia’s Aleksandr Golovin and Croatia’s Ante Rebic. They have performed to a consistently high level. Of the tournament’s star players, Romelu Lukaku has performed as strongly as we expected him to.
And going back to England, I have to give a special mention to Harry Maguire. His excellent performances are another example of Southgate’s positive coaching. He could have gone with the safe option of Cahill’s experience in that position but he chose Maguire and has been rewarded for it.
Let’s see if football really is coming home, as we can hear from every corner of England at the moment…
Final four all deserve to be there
Even through some of the traditional big nations are missing, all four teams who made it to the semi-finals deserve to be there.
In the quarter-finals, France and Brazil would have been my pick for the favourites of the remaining teams. Now, I predict that the winner of the France-Belgium semi-final fixture will go on to win the final.
The great thing about football is its unpredictability. We have seen it through the tournament as some of the favourites really struggled. This allowed teams like Croatia and England to make the most of the opportunity and they are deservedly facing off in the other semi-final.