ENGLAND will fancy their chances to claim victory when they face Croatia in a 2018 World Cup semifinal at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow tonight at 8pm.
England have been one of the surprise packages at the 2018 finals and their semifinal berth was earned with a 2-0 win over Sweden in Samara on Saturday.
Goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli – as well as a couple of excellent saves by Jordan Pickford – secured their place in the final four for the first time since 1990.
Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions have shown tactical flexibility, athleticism, speed and a fine defensive discipline in their campaign, and they will believe themselves in with a chance to win.
The England manager says his team has a chance to become heroes of the same calibre as their legendary 1966 team. “We’ve talked, touched briefly, certainly, on the team which won,” he said. “How they’re still held and revered.
“It was at the beginning of working with the lads and trying to sell them the vision of what’s possible, what we’re looking to achieve in the long term.
“We have had events on in camp when some of those guys have been in, when the road at St George’s Park was named after Sir Alf (Ramsey).
“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.”
Croatia were arguably the most impressive team in the group stage but have since been forced to dig deep against Denmark and hosts Russia in the Last 16 and quarterfinals respectively, playing to draws after extra time before advancing on penalties.
Zlatko Dalic’s side still boasts one of the strongest midfields remaining in the competition, but the physical toll of back-to-back two-hour marathons will be a worry as the Blazers attempt to go one step further than their “golden generation” did in 1998.
While Luka Modric will once again be key for Croatia with his ability to dictate the play, the Eastern Europeans will also need Dejan Lovren to be at his best against Harry Kane. The defender was famously pulled off while playing for Liverpool against Kane’s Tottenham Hotspur in the previous season and will be eager to avoid a repeat.
Dalic has backed his side to deal with the threat of Kane, the tournament’s leading scorer with six strikes.
“But we believe in our strengths,” he said. “We don’t fear England.
“Kane is top scorer, he’s not easy to stop. But we have top centre-backs. We managed to stop Messi and (Christian) Eriksen, so hopefully we can stop Kane.”
For England, the pace and movement of Jesse Lingard and Alli will be vital. Croatia have a habit of leaving a gap between midfield and defence, and the English pair will look to exploit this space at every opportunity.
In head-to-head terms, England and Croatia have met in seven previous matches. The Three Lions have claimed four wins compared to two for the Blazers. One game was drawn.
This will be the teams’ first World Cup finals meeting. Their last clash was a World Cup qualifier in September 2009 which England won 5-1 at home.