Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has identified Raheem Sterling as England’s danger man in the World Cup semi-final on Wednesday.
Sterling was a key part of the Manchester City side that won the Premier League last season but he has been less effective in England’s charge to the last four for the first time since 1990.
Despite some disappointing early performances, England coach Gareth Southgate has kept faith with the 23-year-old and his speed was a constant threat to Sweden’s defence in England’s 2-0 quarter-final win on Saturday.
“I think Raheem Sterling is an important player because he is fast and dangerous alongside Harry Kane,” Dalic said in a press conference Sunday.
“I wouldn’t say there are any glaring weaknesses (in England’s team) since they are in the semi-finals, that says it all.
“They play very direct football, dangerous, fast, and they are really good at setpieces, and dangerous at corner kicks.”
England survived a penalty shootout against Colombia in the last 16 whereas Croatia emerged through extra-time and spot-kicks against Denmark before going through the same ordeal again against Russia in Saturday’s quarter-final.
After such tight matches, it is easy to forget that Croatia produced a feast of attacking play to destroy Lionel Messi’s Argentina 3-0 in the group phase.
Dalic blamed Croatia’s opponents for smothering the creative talents of Luka Modric and said he expected a more open match in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
“Our last three games were different because we played teams with a defensive approach,” he said.
“But we are looking forward to a different style of game against England because they like to play attacking football.”
The semi-final also represents a financial mismatch between the riches of England’s Premier League and Croatian football.
“If we had England’s money, who knows where we’d be in our country?” Dalic said.