The semifinal stage is a nervous stage as exemplified by France-Belgium – you can see the promised land but every mistake will likely cost a lot. Croatia were last here in 1996 while England last made this journey in 1990. The Vatreni have had to win two penalty shootouts while England conquered their fear with a penalty shootout win over Colombia and strolled past Sweden.
Both countries are chasing history – a chance to rewrite what has gone before or the chance to write a new chapter. In Luka Modric, Croatia possesses arguably the best central midfielder in the world and he has been exceptional at this World Cup.
Can Modric, in tandem with Ivan Rakitic plot England’s downfall? With the loss of right back, Sime Vrsaljko, Croatia are weakened at the back and Raheem Sterling, with his pace, could exploit any replacement while Harry Kane will gobble up any scoring chance that shows up.
It will be tight but it should be fascinating.
Head to head [Last 5]
09/09/09 WQE England 5 – 1 Croatia
10/09/08 WQE Croatia 1 – 4 England
21/11/07 ECQ England 2 – 3 Croatia
11/10/06 ECQ Croatia 2 – 0 England
21/06/04 EUC Croatia 2 – 4 England
Current Form [Last 5 matches]
Three duels to watch
Luka Modric v Jordan Henderson
Modric is the conductor of the Croatia symphony while Henderson is the firefighter for the Three Lions. Will Modric go deep as he did in the first half against Russia or will he play just behind the strikers? His position will largely determine how high up the pitch England will push and press.
Dejan Lovren v Raheem Sterling
With roots in Liverpool, Sterling will hope to jump on any mistake or slip from the Lovren, who has been magnificent for Croatia in Russia. The Manchester City forward is yet to score at the World Cup but he has done every other thing asked of him by Gareth Southgate. If he scores, the most probably, England will win.
Ivan Perisic v Kieran Trippier
Perisic is the real dynamo of the Croatian attack and the most versatile offensive player while Trippier has delivered the most crosses in Russia. Who gets to be more offensive in this duel will go a long way to determining the winner.
Quotes to Ponder
“After 20 years we are back where we belong. I’m sure we deserved it. I cannot imagine what would happen if Croatia were the world champions. Probably no one would work for days!” – Zlatko Dalic, Croatia Manager
“‘Football is coming home’ is a song I haven’t been able to listen to until now for more than 20 years to be honest!” – Gareth Southgate, England Manager
Stadium: The beautiful Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow is hosting its sixth match of Russia 2018 – Croatia’s clash against England with temperatures expected to rise as high as 25 degrees Celsius.
Referee in charge: The 41-year-old Turkish referee, Cuneyt Cakir [not many Nigerians’ cup of tea] has handled two matches in Russia and shown nine yellow cards, no red cards and awarded one penalty kick.
World Cup fact: Croatia have conceded four goals at this World Cup, three of which came from set-piece situations. England have netted a tournament-high eight goals from set pieces. [Courtesy FIFA]
Prediction: Croatia 2-1 England