Croatia class, Luka Modric the magician and familiar England flaws: Five things we learned

Luka Modirc was once again in imperious form during Croatia's victory over England.
Updated 12 July 2018
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Croatia class, Luka Modric the magician and familiar England flaws: Five things we learned

If anyone had suggested four weeks ago that Sunday’s showdown would be between France and Croatia they would have likely been declared mad. But after what has been a fantastic tournament in Russia so far, those are the two sides that will do battle at the Luzhniki Stadium. That is all thanks to Croatia’s epic and tense 2-1 victory over England on Wednesday. Here is what we learned from that night of drama in Moscow.

CROATIA HAVE HEART AND SOUL

They came into the clash on the back of two penalty shootout victories. Not only does that mean back-to-back 120-minute matches, but also the mental fatigue that comes with extra-time and penalties. Even after 90 minutes when it was clear some of the legs had gone they kept at it, searching for the winner. That was on top of the fact that when asked several questions by England, after their energetic first 30 minutes, they answered them with class, flair and fight. Following their underwhelming wins over Spain and Russia many questioned whether the 3-0 victory over Argentina in the group stage was the exception or the rule. In Moscow the victory over Argentina was shown to be far from an anomaly, rather a perfect example of what Croatia can do. They dominated the last three halves against England, were the better side, and that they proved that on a set of very tiredlegs means France will not be taking them lightly on Sunday.

MODRIC IS WHAT ENGLAND LACKED

After this World Cup there has to be a strong argument now for Luka Modric breaking the “oh so tedious” cycle of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo winning the Ballon d’Or. He has been brilliant in Russia and against England he was once again at the height of his under appreciated powers. But it was also clear that he was exactly the type of player that England lack and have lacked for years. There is nothing fancy about his game; he goes in search of the ball, gets the ball, keeps his head up and either plays an incisive pass or glides past players. He is always orchestrating, always in control and asking questions of the opposition, and in doing so gives Croatia a measure of control over the game. That is exactly what England did not have. After a good opening half hour they were not able to get a foot on the ball and control the rhythm and tempo in the way Croatia were thanks to Modric. Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli, by contrast, like to be on the ends of chances rather than create them. Until they find a Modric, England will always likely come unstuck before lifting any silverware.

SOMETIMES IT IS NOT BAD TO CHANGE BOSS

It was not just Saudi Arabia who decided that a change of coach just months out from a World Cup was not as crazy an idea as some assume. While the Green Falcons let Bert van Marwijk go in September before sacking his replacement Egardo Bauza, Croatia decided to give Ante Cacic the big push last October just before their crucial qualifier against Ukraine. At the time they were second in the group but needed a result against their fellow eastern Europeans to guarantee a playoff spot. While some would argue that was not the best time to change the man in the dugout, the Croatian FA disagreed. In came Zlatko Dalic and the rest, as they say, is history.

ENGLAND NOT AS GOOD AS THEY THOUGHT

Context is everything and considering they were given no hope at the start of the tournament, for England to get to the last-four was a huge achievement. But, that aside, it was clear that they still have a lot of work to do if they are to be considered anything close to world-beaters. Going into the match they had only managed to beat Tunisia, Panama and Sweden in 90 minutes. In effect they lost to the first good side they came up against. Harry Kane, the likely Golden Boot winner, was anonymous for most of the match, simply because he had no quality midfielders to get the ball to him. That was not just the case against Croatia, but throughout the tournament — he only had five shots on target in the previous five matches. For all the talk of a new era under Gareth Southgate England were ultimatly undone by a familiar failing, a lack of creativity. In Russia they were reliant on set-pieces and, for all the positives to take, they still have many areas to improve before anyone can truly believe that “football’s coming home.”


Djokovic, Nadal into Monte Carlo last eight

Updated 5 min 38 sec ago
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Djokovic, Nadal into Monte Carlo last eight

  • Medvedev eliminates 6th seed Tsitsipas in three sets

MONTE CARLO: Top seed Novak Djokovic and 11-time champion Rafael Nadal showed no mercy in dominating wins to power into the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals on Thursday.

Djokovic extended his winning streak against US players with a 6-3, 6-0 defeat of Taylor Fritz.

The two-time tournament champion has now won nine in a row over Americans since losing at Wimbledon in 2016 to Sam Querrey.

“It was very challenging to play in these (windy) conditions,” Djokovic said. “Taylor just flattens the ball.

“We had five, six close games in the first set, I just managed to break his resistance midway through.

“After that, things went on my side and I felt more comfortable.

“This was one of these days where you just have to hang in there and try to put an extra ball back in the court — that was enough.”

Nadal repeated last year’s semifinal win over Grigor Dimitrov, beating the Bulgarian for the 12th time, 6-4, 6-1.

“I’m very, very happy, this is an important victory for me,” the second seed said after winning his 23rd consecutive set at the tournament.

“Grigor is a super talent and is very dangerous. It was a positive match for me.

“I had a good day, I can be happy with what I did on court.

“When you don’t play on clay for almost a year, every win is important for the confidence, especially as I’m coming back from injury.”

Spain’s 17-time Grand Slam champion started his clay season this week after missing a month with another knee problem and has title-holder points to defend here plus Barcelona, Rome and Roland Garros.

The king of clay is bidding for a 12th trophy in the principality. His record at the event is a staggering 70-4.

Nadal spent almost an hour in securing the first set but picked up the pace in the second as he ran out the winner.

He next faces Guido Pella, who defeated Italy’s Marco Cecchinato 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

World No. 1 Djokovic will be playing his ninth quarterfinal here from 13 appearances at his home event.

Djokovic turned in a steady performance with a dozen winners and unforced errors, while his opponent committed nearly 30 unforced errors in 68 minutes.

Sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas earlier lost 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 as Daniil Medvedev continued his run of form.

The Russian will next line up against Djokovic after losing to him in January in the Australian Open fourth round.

Tsitsipas was caught on the back foot facing three match points as he trailed 0-40 on his serve late in the second set. After saving the first two, the Greek botched the third to seal his exit after an hour and three-quarters.

Medvedev increased his leading total of ATP season match wins to 20 as a result after he beat Tsitsipas for the fourth time in as many attempts.

“This was a great achievement for me,” Medvedev said. “Everything was perfect today.

“Some wind came up in the second set and I could not get used to it. But in the third, I just worked to put every ball in the court.

“I was pleased to fight back after going a break down in the third set.”

The player who stands a career-high 14th credits his rising form to a renewed dedication to the sport.

“I’ve been working hard for the past 18 months —  since before the start of 2018. I’ve dedicated my life to tennis, which I did not do before,” Medvedev said.

“I had my best season last year — hopefully this year will be better.”

The Russian reached his first quarterfinal at the Masters 1000 level after winning his second match against a Top 10 opponent.

Tsitsipas, runner-up last season to Nadal in Toronto, suffered his eighth defeat of the season against 18 wins and will try and lift his game next week on the clay of Barcelona. 

Italian qualifier Lorenzo Sonego defeated Britain’s Cameron Norrie 6-2, 7-5.