It has been more than 50 years of ‘hurt’ for an England side chasing World Cup glory for the first time since 1966 and now they have never had a better chance to emulate the achievements of Sir Alf Ramsey’s all-conquering team.
Despite all the talk of England’s placement on the ‘easier’ side of the playoff tree, or the fact that they appear to rely on set-pieces for a large percentage of goals, the fact remains that they are in a World Cup semi-finals, a position they would have grasped with both hands at the onset of Russia 2018.
The fact that this particular England team is the one to reach the semi-finals and not the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ of Lampard/Beckham/Gerrard/Rooney/Scholes etc. is, perhaps, an intriguing one for England fans but suggests that this group is far more of a unit than previous incarnations of the Three Lions.
Harry Kane has been England’s focal point in the World Cup. The Tottenham man, who wears the captain’s armband for his country, is the top marksman in the tournament with six goals but in addition to his goal-scoring nous, Kane is also a willing runner and a very hard worker for his team.
Raheem Sterling, who will likely play slightly off of Kane, has struggled to replicate his Manchester City form in Russia, while Jesse Lingard, who sometimes struggles to make an impact for Manchester United, appears to be in the form of his life.
Croatia, though, must not be taken lightly. The France ‘98 semi-finalists will be looking to one of the players of the tournament, Luka Modric, to guide them one step further in Russia.
Zlatko Dalic’s team are one of the most cohesive units of any team in the tournament. Aside from Modric’s unique set of skills they have quality in practically every position, with Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic also key to their hopes of reaching their first final.
Croatia relied on penalty shootouts to advance in their round of 16 tie with Denmark, as well as their quarter-final date with Russia, which suggests that they have the collective concentration to last 120 minutes, as well as the cool-headedness to maintain composure during penalties.
For an England side who have so often suffered heartbreak from the penalty spot, this could be an alarming statistic, even if they did exorcise some of their penalty demons in the shootout with Colombia in Moscow a week ago.
HEAD TO HEAD
England won both previous encounters with Croatia, beating them 4-1 in Zagreb and 5-1 in London as part of the qualification for the 2010 World Cup. Fortunes favored the Croatians in the previous meetings, with goalkeeping howlers from both Paul Robinson and Scott Carson responsible for a pair of separate defeats in 2006 and 2007 – the latter of which forced former England coach Steve McClaren out of his job.
If Gareth Southgate can avoid a similar fate, he may have to amend his official title to include the prefix 'Sir' in the Queen's end of year honor list.