England and Croatia have set up an unexpected semifinal clash. They are a step away from a final showdown at a FIFA World Cup with the strongest contenders in Spain, Argentina and Portugal shown the door in the first stage of knockouts and defending champions Germany out in group stage itself.
England’s campaign can be defined in one line – It’s coming home! The Three Lions are confident, and why shouldn’t they be? They are in the semifinals for the first time since 1990. Gareth Southgate is being hailed as a national waistcoat-wearing hero after an unexpected successful campaign.
Eliminating Colombia and Sweden in the knockouts, it has worked out very well for England, who lost to Belgium to take a second spot in the group stage. Skipper Harry Kane is at the top of the race for Golden Boot with six goals.
The two sides have met seven times in the past with England winning their last two clashes. Many supporters are viewing this match as England’s chance of revenge. England went down 3-4 to Croatia that snatched the country’s chance of qualifying for Euro 2008.
Southgate, who was in the last England side that reached the semifinal of their last major tournament (Euro 1996), has carried a young and vibrant team to Russia but worked his charm with the players ahead of the World Cup. England hosts the richest football league in the world – English Premier League – but has somehow failed to carry those building blocks to the international stage. And to change this, Southgate had to change how his boys think.
“They have been prepared to park their club rivalries at the door,” Southgate said. “We’ve talked about how important it is to have that spirit. I’ve met quite a few of those players and we know exactly how they’re held and perhaps, in the modern era, that would be even crazier. Social media and everything else, the global thing is so much bigger.”
Southgate has tactical decisions to make ahead of the crucial semifinal whether to accommodate an extra holding midfielder in Eric Dier who might prove useful to nullify Luka Modric’s threat. Otherwise, England have no fitness issues going into the last-four.
Croatia, on the other hand, did not have easy wins this World Cup. They had to go through extra time and penalties in both knockout matches against Denmark and Russia but emerged successful in the end to reach the semifinals. Keeping that in mind, their fitness level would be a big point of consideration especially if the game once again goes the distance.
Croatia’s star performer has been their skipper Modric, who has been in the limelight. Modric, Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic are being compared to the stars of 1998, who finished third on Croatia’s very debut, something that has happened at the World Cup only once. Keeper Danijel Subasic injured his hamstring late in Saturday’s game against Russia and is doubtful to play in the semifinal on Wednesday