England will back themselves to claim victory when they face Croatia in a 2018 World Cup semifinal on Wednesday night at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
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 from 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 fancy their chances of securing victory in the Russian capital city.
The England manager says his team has a chance to become heroes in the same vein as their legendary 1966 team.
“We’ve talked, touched briefly, certainly, on the team which won,” said Southgate. “How they’re still held and revered.
“(It was) at the beginning of working together 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 was named at St George’s (Park) after Sir Alf.
“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 out draws after extra time before advancing on penalties.
Zlatko Dalic’s side continue to boast one of the strongest midfields remaining in the competition, but the physical toll of back-to-back two-hour marathons will be a worry for ‘The Blazers’ as they attempt to go one step further than their ‘golden generation’ did in 1998.
While Luka Modric will once again be key for Croatia in 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 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.”
The manager added, “He [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, according to Fifa’s statistics database. The ‘Three Lions’ have claimed four wins compared to two for ‘The Blazers’, while one game has been drawn.
This will be the teams’ first World Cup finals meeting, while their last match overall was a World Cup qualifier in September 2009 which England won 5-1 at home.