Croatia will face off against England at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow later today to win the right to play against France in the 2018 World Cup final.
Croatia with their midfield strength and England with their attacking verve will make it a match for tactical connoisseurs.
Croatia went the distance in their two knockout games and perhaps an extent of weariness could be expected from them.
But England would also anticipate a high degree of mental fortitude and physical endurance from their opponents.
In both games, Croatia had to recover from losing golden opportunities in the dying stages of extra time and pick themselves up for the penalty shootouts.
Luka Modric, captain and midfield general, exemplified this mental toughness by stepping up for a penalty in the shootout after missing a penalty in the dying minutes to seal victory against Denmark.
Another positive for the Croatian team has been the propensity of senior players such as Mandzukic, Modric and Rakitic to assume more dominant roles in extra time.
The lengthening of the game counter intuitively brings the best of these stalwarts, as they assert their class against tiring teams.
Yet, there has been a nagging feeling that the Croatian team could play more convincingly.
With probably two of the best all round midfielders in the world, pace to burn in the wings and potent sources of goals from set pieces, one would expect more dominant performances than the ones seen thus far.
A key reason for the lack of verve from Zlatko Dalic’s troops has been the absence of balance in midfield.
Against Denmark, the Croats went for a typical 4-3-3, with Brozovic partnering Modric and Rakitic, and for large parts of the game, they were tepid in midfield as confusion reigned on the individual roles of the trio.
In the quarter finals, Dalic opted for a 4-2-3-1 with Modric and Rakitic forming the midfield pivot.
Facing a physically imposing and direct Russian offence, the duo were largely confined to defensive duties, unable to influence the game in more creative ways.
Modric has been at the fulcrum of Croatia’s most impressive attacking endeavours in the tournament such as the 3-0 demolition of Argentina.
To reinstate him as playmaker, Dalic could experiment with holding midfielder, Milan Badelj.
Smooth on the ball and strong on the tackle, with an odd goal in his locker, Badelj could be the perfect balance for the creative talents of Modric and Rakitic.
Wing play has been another cause for concern.
The likes of Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic have not lacked in work rate but have failed to provide decent service to striker Mario Mandzukic, while left back Ivan Strinic has been defensively shaky and offensively unimportant.
To further Dalic’s problems, Sime Vrsaljko, the first choice right back, might miss the semi-finals due to a knee injury.
It’s likely that Croatia replace Strinic with Josip Pivaric, and bring in the youthful Tin Jedvaj for the injured Vrsaljko.
Two new wingbacks, and a more balanced midfield could be the antidote for the Croatians in the pursuit of their first ever World Cup final.
In contrast, England comfortably sealed their place to the semi-finals as they dispatched Sweden with a 2-0 scoreline.
Unruffled in defence and clinical in front of goal, the English gave a perfect team display.
Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane were constantly buzzing in attack, Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli harried with runs from midfield, and Jordan Henderson was imposing in midfield as a the sole holding player.
The wide play from wingbacks Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young was potent as the assist for England's second goal showed.
England’s strategy has been to bombard crosses through their wingers and mix this wide play with intricate one touch passing between the quartet of Lingard, Alli, Kane and Sterling.
Kane and Sterling are especially crucial to this aspect of the play, since they not only have pace and strength, but also an inherent ability to play with their back to goal, helping them release Alli and company into space.
England manager, Gareth Southgate has not tinkered much with a winning combination, which plays to the strengths of his players, but a Croatian midfield brimming with class might force England into some changes.
Though Henderson was dominant against the Swedes, it must be taken into account that Sweden were uncharacteristically passive in midfield, and hardly pressed the English.
To shore up midfield, Dier or Loftus-Cheek could accompany Henderson in a rejigged 3-4-1-2 formation with one of Lingard or Alli missing out.
A controlled midfield and sharp offensive play may pave the route for England's first final since 1966.
Player To Watch
Josip Pivaric: A constant thread in the first half of Croatia’s quarter final was the mismatch between Ivan Strinic, the left back, and the Russian right hand side of Samedov and Mario Fernandes.
Lucky to escape a second booking, Strinic was living on the edge against the enterprising Russians. Replacing Pivaric for Srinic in the second half, gave control and possession to Croatia, and against the marauding threat of Trippier, an assured display by Pivaric will prove key.
Raheem Sterling: Sterling’s finishing has been in the focus, as he missed a great one on one chance against the Swedes. But the chance would not have been created had Sterling not controlled the lob over his shoulder expertly in the first place.
The Sweden game was littered with such moments of magic from Sterling, as he buzzed into pockets of space and held the ball for midfield runners. With his fleet footed play, he could prove a menace to the physically imposing but technically limited central defensive pairing of Croatia.
Subasic- Jedvaj, Loveren, Vida, Pivaric- Rakitic, Badelj- Rebic, Modric, Perisic- Mandzukic.
Pickford- Walker, Stones, Maguire- Trippier, Henderson, Dier, Young- Alli- Sterling, Kane.