Croatia have the chance to make history on Wednesday when they lock horns with 1966 champions England in the World Cup semi-finals.
2018 FIFA World Cup
11 July 2018
Kick-off: 20:00 (GMT+2)
Venue: Luzhniki Stadium
Referee: C. Cakir
Assistants: B. Duran, T. Ongun
Fourth official: B. Kuipers
England 5-1 Croatia (2010 World Cup qualifier) 09/09/2009
England goalscorers: F. Lampard (8′ pen, 59′) S. Gerrard (18′, 66′), W. Rooney (77′)
Croatia goalscorers: Eduardo (73′)
Players to watch:
Croatia possess two of the world’s best midfielders in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. The duo are capable of unlocking any defence and they pose a threat from set-pieces. Modric has scored twice for his country in Russia, while Rakitic has one goal to his name. England will have their work cut out in trying to keep the pair quiet.
Raheem Sterling hasn’t had the best of times at the global showpiece, but this could be his moment to shine for his country. The winger enjoyed his best-ever season coming into the World Cup, registering 18 goals and 11 assists to help Manchester City claim the Premier League title.
Sterling’s explosive pace and trickery could be a real handful for the Croatian defence and he’s due a goal, having not scored for his country since October 2015.
Team form and manager quotes:
The Blazers reached the same stage of the competition in 1998 as debutants before losing 2-1 to host nation and eventual champions France.
The class of ’98 are revered for their exploits having also made it the quarter-finals of Euro 1996, where they were knocked out by Germany, who went on to win the title on English soil.
However, the current crop of players can go one better by competing in their first-ever final at a major tournament and write their own names into Croatian football’s annals.
Zlatko Dalic’s side won all five of their games at the Russian spectacle, although they needed penalties to get past Denmark and Russia in the round of 16 and last eight respectively.
Dalic insists they deserve to be contesting the semi-finals after producing quality performances to beat the likes of Nigeria, Argentina and hosts Russia.
“Croatia has great players at great clubs around Europe. It is true we have not made good results at major tournaments for decades, but we should not be surprised Croatia are in the last four of the World Cup given the quality of the players, which has been proven,” the Croatia head coach said in his pre-match press conference.
“The players have shown their qualities when it matters at this World Cup, and maybe will go down in history as a great generation which has gone close to the third-place finish of the 1998 World Cup.
“This is the result of our hard work, and of the quality of players who play at the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan. They have just displayed the qualities they have, that is all.”
The Three Lions are also participating in their first semi-final for 20 years, and it comes as a surprise given the youthful and inexperienced group that Gareth Southgate took to the World Cup.
The third-youngest squad in the tournament weren’t really tested in the group stages, where they recorded two wins and a defeat, before getting past Colombia in the last 16 on penalties.
Southgate’s troops disposed of Sweden in the quarter-finals to move a step closer to achieving the pinnacle of football once more, but the 47-year-old believes his players are nowhere near their best yet.
“Sometimes, you have to go through difficult times and failures to learn and improve,” Southgate told the press on Tuesday.
“A lot of young players were involved two years ago [at Euro 2016], suffered huge disappointment, we could have ignored that and looked to the future but we felt it was important to unpick it and find out exactly why we’ve had 10 years since we won a knockout game.
“This team is nowhere near the level they will be capable of, partly because of age and partly because over the years they’ll have more big-match experience.
“We’re excited about the future but want to make the most of the opportunity we have [now].”
Right-back Sime Vrsaljko and goalkeeper Danijel Subasic are fitness concerns for Croatia.
Vrsaljko limped off with a knee injury in extra time against Russia, while Subasic played on despite hurting his hamstring earlier in the match.
Domagoj Vida is available for selection after escaping with a warning from FIFA for his pro-Ukraine video to celebrate the victory over the Russians.
England are at full strength with Jordan Henderson (hamstring) and Jamie Vardy (groin) having recovered from their respective injuries.