'Extra time'. 'Tired'. 'Exhausted'.
Those were the words English fans were saying perpetually ahead of their semi-final against Croatia on Wednesday night.
Following the Croats’ two knockout stage games, which both went into extra time, it was expected that the Three Lions held the upper hand, maybe even the key to victory in Moscow.
Instead, Croatia ran England ragged for 120 minutes and proved that tiredness shouldn't necessarily be considered an excuse anymore.
19 days later
On May 26, not far away from the Russian capital, Luka Modric played the full 90 minutes of the Champions League final in the Olympic Stadium in Kiev. That was just 19 days before the World Cup in Russia kicked off, leaving him with very little time to regenerate and prepare for the international tournament.
If there was one player who had every right to complain about tiredness ahead of the Wednesday game, then, it was Modric.
Instead, he shrugged it off and led the team through to the big final on Sunday before getting back at English pundits for ‘talking nonsense’ and being disrespectful.
“We showed again we were not tired. We should have killed the game even before extra time,” he said bitterly.
He’s right. Croatia shot more – 22 times to England’s 11 – and they were also more aggressive – committing 23 fouls, nine more than England. Ante Rebic had the most successful tackles: four, compared to Kyle Walker’s three.
That doesn’t sound like a team dragging their feet due to exhaustion.
Tournament fatigue seems to be too far-fetched a concept to generate this sort of interest. However, a number of news outlets made this the mainstay of their World Cup coverage in the build-up to the Croatia semi-final.
This is not unusual. The statistic has even been used to justify a player’s poor performance as was the case for Robert Lewandowski who hardly made an impact for the dreadful Poland side in Russia.
To be fair, it seems like a logical implication to suggest that the more minutes of playing time under the belt would affect the endurance and productivity of a team or a single player. Modric-led Croatia, however, seem to have defied logic and put those claims to bed once and for all.
Advancing to a World Cup final after three successive sessions of extra time for the first time in history, Croatia achieved this despite having to come from behind in all three games: also a record.
The importance of this should not be overstated: being a goal down and fighting for an equaliser forces a team to play more aggressively and, therefore, lose energy quicker.
Fighting to the end
Croatia were hardly phased, though. Zlatko Dalic was so confident of his team’s fitness against England that he made his first substitution in 95th minute sending Ante Kramaric on to replace Ante Rebic.
With Luka Modric’s heat map making him look like the Duracell Bunny, he covered the middle of the park, the right wing and occasionally made runs down the right wing lingering around the corner flag.
That suggests that tiredness may have as much to do with a side controlling the ball as with the number of minutes in their legs. Tiredness, then, should be approached with caution, possibly even becoming a red-herring for an opponent.
This is something England should remember from their last visit to the World Cup semis 28 years ago. That team, led by Gary Lineker, was on a similar run of three straight games finished in extra-time.
England fought back against West Germany being 1-0 down and took it to a penalty shootout. Only because the dawn of the infamous penalty curse that night they were denied a spot in the final.
Modric’s frustration and Croatia’s semi-final performance debunked the myth of the tiredness factor. Counting on an ’exhausted opponent’ is preposterous and may well only end in tears: just as it did for the England fans on Wednesday night.
What do you think? Is tiredness a myth to be debunked? Let us know by commenting below.