FIFA 2018: Finally, England and Croatia have to banish semifinal blues

But neither side are in a mood for nostalgia or using the past as motivation.

Two nations who have been waiting years to put right the bitter memories of World Cup semifinal defeats will face each other on Wednesday in Moscow with the chance to finally go one step further.

England’s last appearance at this stage was in 1990 when they lost in a penalty shootout to West Germany in Turin while eight years later, in their first World Cup as an independent nation, Croatia lost to hosts and eventual winners France.

While many outsiders view that unexpected Croatian run to the last four as a great success, inside the country many share the view of the team’s then manager Miroslav Blazevic that it was a missed opportunity.

England too left Italy 28 years ago feeling that the team featuring Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne could have gone all the way.

But neither side are in a mood for nostalgia or using the past as motivation.

While Croatian players, who have been asked constantly about the generation of 1998 and never fail to express their admiration for the likes of Zvonimir Boban and Davor Suker, those comparisons are a weight they feel is unneeded.

“We are not putting more pressure on ourselves with what happened in 1998,” said midfielder Ivan Rakitic.

“What they did was impressive but we want to keep writing our own history and enjoy what we are doing which is very positive,” he added.

England’s loss in 1990 was turned into a documentary film and has become a fabled part of the country’s “52 years of pain” since their 1966 World Cup triumph.

But on Monday, defender Ashley Young was quick to dismiss it’s significance.

“We are concentrating on what’s going on now. Not what’s happened in the past. We’re looking forward to the future,” said Young.

Underestimated

Neither team came to Russia being heralded as favourites but they have produced performances throughout the competition which have shown they were underestimated by the pundits.

Croatia’s 3-0 win over Argentina in the group stage was a clear signal that the team led by midfield maestro Luka Modric was a real threat with their clever passing and movement.

In their quarter-final clash with Russia, the Croats showed a different side, being willing to slug it out with the Russians for 120 minutes before keeping their cool and winning the shootout in such a partisan atmosphere.

England, who made an early impression with a 6-1 crushing of Panama in the group stage, then overcame their shootout hoodoo in beating Colombia in the last 16 and looked composed and mature in the 2-0 quarterfinal victory over Sweden.

Given Croatia had extra time and penalties to recover from, England should come into the game fresher and they also have the edge in previous meetings, winning four of the seven encounters, including a 5-1 victory in their most recent match — a World Cup qualifier in 2009.

Key stats:

* England are making their first World Cup semi-final appearance since 1990, when they lost to Germany on penalties.

* The Three Lions’ only international title is the 1966 World Cup victory on home soil.

* Croatia, who became independent in the early 1990s, have reached the World Cup last four once before, in their debut World Cup appearance in 1998. They lost to hosts and eventual winners France.

* Croatia topped their World Cup group in Russia with three wins out of three games, scoring seven goals and conceding just one. They are unbeaten so far in the tournament.

* England finished second in their group, having lost their final group match to Belgium.

* Midfielder Luka Modric is Croatia’s top scorer in the tournament with two goals.

* England forward Harry Kane, who tops the World Cup scorers’ list in Russia with six goals, is level with former striker Gary Lineker for most goals scored by an England player at one World Cup.

* England have scored eight out of their 11 goals so far from set pieces including penalties.

* England’s 11 goals so far are equal to the country’s record of most goals at a single World Cup set back in 1966, when they won the title.

* Midfielder Jordan Henderson has not lost any of his last 30 England matches, the longest unbeaten run of any England player in history.

* England needed penalties to beat Colombia in the Round of 16, but eased into the last four with a trouble-free 2-0 victory over Sweden.

* Despite a comfortable run through their group, Croatia has had a tougher ride in the knockout rounds, needing extra time and penalties to eliminate both Denmark in the round of 16 and then hosts Russia in the last four.

Previous meetings:

* England and Croatia have never met at a World Cup, and only once met at an international tournament, when the English beat them 4-2 at Euro 2004

* In total the two sides have played each other seven times, with England notching four wins to Croatia’s two. Their first encounter, in 1996, ended in a goalless draw.

Key head-to-head duels which could prove decisive

Luka Modric v Jordan Henderson

Modric is Croatia’s creative fulcrum and the effectiveness of the Real Madrid playmaker in Moscow will be integral to his nation’s hopes of reaching the World Cup final for the first time.

Operating in tandem with Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic, Modric will be out to dominate central midfield and build a platform to allow him to link with his forwards, or embark on a foray or two of his own into the box.

Henderson, if again selected as England’s sole holding midfielder, will need to be at his disruptive best to prevent the Croatians developing a stranglehold in the middle of the pitch, while also watching out for those surging runs forward.

Harry Kane v Dejan Lovren

Kane scored three goals for Tottenham Hotspur against Lovren’s Liverpool last season, two in a 4-1 victory when a series of errors by the hapless Croatian defender saw him replaced after 31 minutes.

Lovren has been a defensive rock for Croatia at this tournament, however, and with his partner Domagoj Vida will be confident of shackling Kane and preventing him from adding to his tally of six goals at the tournament.

The England captain, who has not scored from open play since England’s rout of Panama in their second group match, does not have the lightning speed that would expose the lack of pace in the Croatian central defence.

However, Kane’s partner in attack, Raheem Sterling, has pace to burn and England’s totem will be on hand to benefit if that causes problems for the Croatians.

Mario Mandzukic v John Stones

Juventus striker Mandzukic is Croatia’s main goal threat and although he has only scored once in Russia, his game is about a lot more than just finding the net.

Strong, mobile, indefatigable and good in the air, Mandzukic looks to make life as difficult as possible for the defence, stretching play to allow the likes of Modric the space they need to get into the danger zone around the box.

Stones, and his defensive partners Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker, will need to be on their toes for the whole game against Croatia’s lone striker, particularly when the ball flies into the area from a set piece.

And potentially:

Danijel Subasic v England penalty takers

While the set piece has been England’s most decisive weapon on their run to the semi-finals, and they won a penalty shootout to beat Colombia, Croatia will feel they have the edge if the match remains deadlocked after extra time.

Monaco goalkeeper Subasic saved three penalties in Croatia’s shootout win over Denmark in the round of 16, and another in the quarter-finals as the Vatreni dramatically ousted hosts Russia on penalties.

The big Croatian looks likely to shake off the hamstring injury that hampered him against the Russians and would be an imposing figure between the sticks for England’s penalty takers if a place in the final came down to spot-kicks.

Source: Read Full Article