Youth faces experience when England’s young guns and Croatia’s old guard face off in Wednesday’s World Cup semi-final in Moscow, with the prize of a return trip to the Luzhniki Stadium for the final.
England have not reached the last four for 28 years and have only once before reached the final, when they won the World Cup on home soil in 1966 while Croatia have never gone beyond the semis.
Here are the key battles that could decide where the game is won and lost.
Dejan Lovren vs
Croatia’s defence is considered their weak link with neither Lovren nor centre-back partner Domagoj Vida boasting great pace. Lovren, who has struggled against Kane in the Premier League in the past, faces a tough challenge to contain England’s prime striker. Kane is the tournament’s top scorer so far with six goals.
Ivan Rakitic vs
Further up the field, Croatia are blessed with a number of talented ball-playing midfielders. Rakitic is among the finest in the game, although he has played more of a withdrawn role in this tournament while Modric has attacked. Henderson, the preferred anchor in Gareth Southgate’s side, will attempt to negate his impact.
Luka Modric vs Dele Alli
Real Madrid playmaker Modric has excelled at times in Russia, both on the ball and in terms of his leadership qualities. His exact role can be variable, he could spray passes from midfield or be pushed forward to operate in support of main striker Mario Mandzukic. Alli has his own attacking inclinations but there could be onus on him to drop back to prevent Modric taking a firm grip.
Mario Mandzukic vs
Mandzukic is Croatia’s chief threat in front of goal and has operated both as a lone striker and as one of a pair, with Andrej Kramaric, in this tournament. His prime attributes are his strength and aerial power and England will want Maguire, their strongest defender in the air, up against him as the crosses come in. -AGENCIES