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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.