Croatia v England

Despite what I said in the wake of that awful match against Macedonia, I’m feeling extremely cheerful about Croatia. My gut feelings have been 100% reliable for a while now – since calling the Portugal quarter-final correctly – and my gut feeling is that Croatia’s home unbeaten record isn’t going to last into Thursday.

I don’t have what you might call real reasons for optimism, but here are some things to consider.

  1. Rooney is fit and will start. At some point, like Owen and Shearer during their dry patches, it’s all going to come together for Wayne. It’s happened before – he joined Manchester United injured, and took his time before announcing his arrival with a train of astonishing strikes.
  2. Crouch is also fit, and, contrary to what his nay-sayers have been.. erm, saying, he’s started scoring in the difficult, important matches for Liverpool. With a little more fortune than he enjoyed against Macedonia, he too could come good in Zagreb.
  3. Scott Parker is starting in place of Steven Gerrard. I haven’t liked Gerrard in an England shirt for a while now. Parker is no Gerrard, but he might be a Jack Charlton, you know – not the best player, but the RIGHT player. It’s certainly his kind of game tomorrow.
  4. I feel much the same way about Jamie Carragher. Some of the stories about him when he was a young player are stomach-turning, but he also now comes across in that sense of being the right, if not the best, player.

It’s such a long time since a new England formation clicked instantly. That was 3-5-2, too, back in 1990, in the middle of a World Cup in true English fashion. Wouldn’t it be good, and also very funny, if the switch paid off big-time?

Prediction: 0-3 to England – (Crouch 2, Rooney). An England win, at any rate. At the back of my mind I can still hear the voice of Sven Goran Erickson saying gently into a rack of microphones, “We will qualify”.