England just powerful enough to edge out creative Croatia

Southgate’s staff researched how goals are scored at World Cups.

Did anybody know that Portugal scored eight goals from set plays in 1966? I didn’t. We mostly remember the goals in open play.

Last week I saw Gary Cahill on TV one morning.

He revealed England’s secret when he said, “The key was to stick to the way we play.”

What does he mean by “the way we play”? It’s a system of garethpressing, of dispossession, of forceful defending from the front, condensing space and outnumbering the other team in each zone. That approach needs collective determination  and athleticism. We are very hard to play against.

Since I believe football is about goals, not possession, our 3-5-2 pressing system makes sense.

The system rules because it’s taken us to this  World Cup semi-final.

We play this way because Gareth Southgate has figured out that this the best way to win games with the resources at his disposal.

He knows he doesn’t have a Johnny Haynes or Bobby Charlton or a Paul Gascoigne or a Kevin De Bruyne to make goals and score them,  so building beautifully incisive moves is not an option.

So he keeps picking the same eleven and we play in packs and hunt the ball down every time we lose it, rather than dropping back to defend our penalty area.

Forcing the game further forward allows us to play for free-kicks, corners and penalties. That’s worked well and 80% of our goals have come from set-pieces. One of Harry Kane’s goals in open play was a deflected shot that hit his heel.

We’re winning games and 32 million Brits are loving it and the Band of the Welsh Guards are playing Football’s Coming Home outside Buckingham Palace and we’re all riding a tsunami of hope,

We arrived in Moscow by scoring with two headers against Sweden, an early one by Harry Maguire and a late one by Dele Alli.

Possible problem?

While Sweden are a team of nobodies who never believed they could beat England, Croatia are the first good team we have played in Russia.

They use playmakers Modric & Rakitic, rather than tempo & pressing. They pass and move and demonstrate intelligence in the front third of the pitch.

Modric of Real Madrid  s a creative inside forward, while Rakitic of Barcelona is like a great  left-half from the Sixties

Zlatko Dalic, Croatia’s 51-year-old coach, won all his group games against Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland. Only Belgium, Uruguay and Croatia won all of three games.

But when Dalic plays Luka Modric in front of the back four the team struggles because they need his artistry further forward. He’s a gifted goalmaker who also hits very accurate shots.

I liked Kramaric in the first game, so I was glad he started and scored the first goal with a little header from Mandzukic’s tidy cross.

Although Sunday afternoon was ridiculously warm in London, I managed to amble round the corner to compare notes with my gambling greengrocer.

John’s already had a bet on England and reckons we will beat Croatia 4-0 or 4-1.

Being more cautious, I will wait to see the line-ups.

France v Belgium is on Tuesday night.

If that’s still 0-0 after 80 minutes, who will I fancy?

Much more fun than 2014 isn’t it?

See links below.

Ashley Young is the new Paul Merson

Euro 96 : Against Switzerland, only Southgate rose to the occasion

Media now accepts where England really are