The young English side will be looking to take one step closer to realising their dream of bringing the cup home when they lock horns with Croatia in the second semi-final Wednesday at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia. Both the European teams have played wonderfully so far and are desperate to reach the grand finale in the greatest show on earth.
The Croats had to wait 20 years to repeat their last-four appearance in the France World Cup while for the Three Lions it was a long 28-year wait after their semi appearance in Italy 1990. Both England and Croatia will be targeting unchartered territory.
The Croats are yet to reach a World Cup final while the English only advanced to the final once in their history, in 1966 when they clinched the title on home soil. None of the two teams were expected to reach the last four but some solid team play has made it possible.
Croatia, led by their charismatic captain Luka Modric, won both their knockout matches on penalties, against Denmark and host Russia, courtesy heroics from goalkeeper Danijel Subasic. Their most eye-catching performance perhaps came against Argentina in the group stage where Lionel Messi and Co suffered a 3-0 defeat.
In contrast, England wrote their own history against Colombia in the last 16 when they registered their first ever World Cup win in the tie-breaker. England have already scored 11 times in this tournament, equaling their most successful edition in 1966. Following some initial frights against the Colombians, England recorded a clinical 2-0 victory against Sweden in the last eight.
After successfully neutralising Messi in the group stage, Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic believes his charges can do the same with English captain Harry Kane. With that said, Dalic will also be wary about the fitness of his charges after Croatia played more than 240 minutes in their last two games, all within a span of six days.
A lot of talks have been doing the rounds as far as Croatia’s starting XI is concerned. Regular right-back Sime Vrsaljko missed training Sunday while Marcelo Brozovic or Milan Badelj might replace Andrej Kramaric in midfield. Mario Mandzukic attended the pre-match press conference two days before the England clash.
"This is something special, to play for your country. You cannot compare it with winning, even scoring in the Champions League final. We are very close now, we are aware of that, we will give the last drop of sweat to achieve what we want!" said Mandzukic.
15 - Luka Modric made 15 recoveries v Russia, no outfield player made more recoveries in a World Cup 2018 game (Marcelo also 15 v Switzerland). Captain. pic.twitter.com/Bq0iA2TOFY— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) July 7, 2018
"Our coach Dalic is a simple man. He is always calm, we have not seen him nervous and angry. We follow him, we trust him. He brings this calmness to us and that's why we are so successful," he added.
England manager Gareth Southgate may start with his regular line-up as there are no injury or suspension concerns. The best thing about England in this tournament is with regards to their ability of adapting to the challenge of facing different countries. Though they will get a tough fight from Croatia’s formidable midfield, their clinical performance against Sweden will give them a lot of confidence.
Southgate was spot on while talking about England’s new-found self-belief.
"Belief comes from evidence that things work, and that you can get results by playing, training and working the way we work. And slowly you get small landmarks and results as we’ve had against big teams in the matches in the lead-in to the tournament, belief in the system of play, winning matches late on in games, getting through a penalty shootout, all of those things built belief in the team, and built belief in the supporters as well."