Gareth Southgate and his merry men have surprised fans up and down the country by reaching the semi finals of the World Cup.
It has been a whirlwind of a tournament so far, highlighted none other than England’s success and how the country that is so consistent in causing disappointment for fans is one match away from a World Cup final.
With so much euphoria surrounding the Three Lions, this is a great time to back Southgate’s team. Here are five bets that are worth putting on before the semi finals against Croatia:
While it might seem ambitious to go all out and say that football is quite literally coming home, all the signs are pointing towards something miraculous and totally unbelievable happening. Not one person had given two thoughts to England reaching a semi final, and yet we are here, against Croatia, with Ladbrokes pricing England to win the competition at 5/2.
While the eastern European nation are a difficult opponent for the Three Lions, there could have quite obviously been more challenging opposition in their way to their first World Cup final since 1966.
With all of the confidence and feel good factor surrounding Southgate’s team, there is still no pressure put on them for this match and moving forward should that eventuality come to fruition. England’s players have done themselves proud and will come back heroes, no matter what.
The Three Lions are on a roll with the wind in their sails. They will firmly be thinking they can reach the World Cup final and have showed so far on the pitch why they deserve to be there.
France or Belgium stand in their way to the trophy, who are difficult opponents, but this is a totally one-off game in which anything can happen. The pressure is firmly on the other team and so England can play with the freedom they have been longing for during the past decade.
Unless you have been living under a rock in the past month, you would have noticed Raheem Sterling being the victim of a wrath of criticism. Most of it unjust, the Manchester City forward has been a breath of fresh air for England’s attacking shape and is one of very few who can stretch the opposition’s defence with such ease.
Against Colombia and especially Sweden, Sterling did just that. He continuously made runs in-behind their defences and created space for his teammates to exploit. A lot of his work is done off camera and so is sometimes easy to claim he is not being as influential when that is simply not the case.
Sterling should have scored in the quarter final against Sweden, but once again, it shows the willingness to get in-behind the last man and pose a threat - something unique that other England players have struggled to do with such effectiveness.
The Englishman scored 23 goals in all competitions last season for Manchester City, showing he does in fact know where the back of the net is. His time will come and it would not be such a shock if Sterling is the one to make such an impact on the grandest of stages and score in the World Cup final. The criticism will only spur him on, that is for sure. If you think this is a real possibility, Ladbrokes have the option at 7/2.
In three of England’s five matches so far, Southgate’s players have found the back of the net in both halves. Against Belgium, in which they fielded their B team, and Colombia, which was a very tense battle with poor refereeing decisions given, were they not successful in doing this.
Unlike other major tournaments in the recent past, England have a renewed sense of optimism and look hungry for goals. While some Three Lions national teams of the past might have been happy to see out a low-scoring match, Southgate’s players showed against Panama that they want to go for the jugular and lay down markers.
Croatia is another test for this very young England side and will set the tone for the World Cup final, should they progress. They will be seen as the weaker side going into it no matter what happens, but for their own confidence, the players will want to grab as many goals going into the biggest game of their careers.
Both defences are there to be attacked and have looked vulnerable at times, which is going to open up the game and allow chances to be created. England have so far been rather prolific in scoring and they will be hoping that theme continues.
Southgate has so far proved a lot of critics wrong with his approach to this England side and he is now reaping in the rewards. However, his job is not done just yet and will understand and appreciate the golden opportunity presented before him in reaching a World Cup final.
While Croatia are a diligent, creative and tough team to crack, England will have seen cracks in their game that they can exploit. One of those being their defence - especially without first choice right back Šime Vrsaljko. Former Spurs man Vedran Ćorluka is set to replace him at right back, which will be warmly received by Southgate.
With the game opening up, there will be over 1.5 goals in this match up. England will come out victors and move into the their first World Cup final for 52 years. This option is available to bet on at 9/4 with Paddy Power.
It is no secret that a large portion of England’s success has come from set-pieces. In fact, of the 11 goals scored in this tournament, eight have been from either a corner, free-kick or penalty situation.
Such is the importance of creating a nuisance in the opponent’s box, England will once again be targeting those set-pieces and trying to exploit the obvious aerial advantage they have over Croatia.
While their opponents are not small by any stretch of the imagination, no team can really put up with the dominance of Harry Maguire who has consistently shown he is a danger when the ball is delivered into him.
However, it is John Stones that poses more of a danger against Croatia. Having already scored two, the Manchester City centre back knows where the back of the net is and will be feeling confident going up against Dejan Lovren.
Croatia will be so petrified by Maguire that they will be all over him like a rash from corners and free-kicks, leaving Stones with space to exploit and get on the end of either Ashley Young or Kieran Trippier deliveries.
Southgate will make sure England are playing in the areas to cause havoc and give Stones the best opportunity to find the back of the net, which is 10/1 with Ladbrokes.