England are dreaming of a first World Cup final since 1966 but first they must come through Wednesday’s semi-final at the Luzhniki Stadium against Croatia in what looks like their toughest test yet in Russia.
Excitement has reached fever-pitch levels back in England, with Gareth Southgate’s young team making it to the last four of a major tournament for the first time since Euro ‘96, and for the first time at a World Cup since Italy in 1990.
Both of those runs ended in defeats on penalties, but there is a belief that something could be different this time.
England have already won a shootout in Russia, against Colombia in the last 16. And a young, likeable side with an eminently sensible and humble manager in Southgate have captured the hearts of a nation.
The challenge posed by Croatia is likely to be more demanding, especially as Zlatko Dalic’s side features one of the best midfield pairings around, in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
Real Madrid playmaker Modric, who was at Tottenham Hotspur earlier in his career at the same time a young Kane was starting out, has been a particular inspiration. The captain was the man of the match again in the penalty shootout win over Russia in Sochi at the weekend.
That allowed Croatia to reach the semi-finals for the first time since the 1998 World Cup in France, which was their first as an independent nation. For a country with a population of little more than four million, making it all the way to the final would be a remarkable achievement.
Here’s a look at the statistical preview of the much-anticipated match, starting with their head-to-head.
England v Croatia head-to-head
|Goals scored by England||18|
|Goals scored by Croatia||10|
A look at their performances so far at Russia 2018...
England and Croatia at Russia 2018
|Goals for / against||11 / 4||10 / 4|
|Yellow / Red cards||5 / 0||12 / 0|
|Number of players used||21||21|
|Number of goalscorers||5||8|
|Win / Draw / Loss||4 / 0 / 1||5 / 0 / 0|
More facts and figures
- This is the eighth showdown between the pair and England lead the overall head-to-head series with four wins to Croatia’s two, plus a 0-0 draw from their first meeting in April 1996.
- They last crossed paths on 9 September 2009, in qualifying for South Africa 2010: England ran out 5-1 winners at Wembley following braces from Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard and a Wayne Rooney goal, with Eduardo replying for Croatia.
- England and Croatia have locked horns once before in the finals of an international competition, at the UEFA European Championship 2004, where the Three Lions emerged 4-2 victors in the group phase. The English scorers were Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney (two) and Frank Lampard, whereas Croatia netted through Niko Kovac and Igor Tudor.
- Croatia are in the semi-finals of a FIFA World Cup for the second time, after qualifying for the last four on their competition debut in 1998 in France.
- England and Croatia’s most significant meetings came in the 2008 European Championship qualifiers when Croatia completed the double over the Three Lions. It was one of the low-points of England’s history as they failed to qualify for the Euros. In the first match (October 2006), Croatia won 2-0 in Zagreb. And later in the final group game (November 2007), England needed a draw to ensure qualification. And ended up losing 2-3 at Wembley. Both defeats were marked by goalkeeping howlers for England – Paul Robinson in Zagreb and Scott Carson in London.
- England have qualified for the World Cup semi-finals for the third time, doing so on European soil just as in 1966 and 1990. If they proceed to qualify for the final, it will only be the second time in their history.
- Croatia are breaking national records with two unprecedented runs in the World Cup, having gone five matches unbeaten, with three wins and two draws (games that they subsequently won on penalties), and scored in nine successive matches. The Balkan team last failed to find the net in a 0-0 stalemate with Japan in 2006.
- In their quarter-final victory over Sweden, England kept a clean sheet for the first time in this campaign.
- Danijel Subasic became the third goalkeeper to save four penalties in World Cup shoot-outs after Harald Schumacher (1982-1986) and Sergio Goycochea (1990). Coincidentally, all three have saved at least one penalty against the host team and advanced from that tie (Mexico-Germany FR in 1986, Italy-Argentina in 1990, Russia-Croatia in 2018).
- In beating first Denmark and then Russia, Croatia became the second team to win two penalty shoot-outs in the same edition, after Argentina did it in 1990.
- England boast three wins, one draw (in 1954, before the introduction of penalty shoot-outs) and one defeat in games decided in extra time. Against Colombia the Three Lions finally won a World Cup penalty shoot-out at the fourth time of asking, after losing their first three.
- Both Croatia and England have already contested a World Cup fixture on 11 July. Croatia edged the Netherlands 2-1 in 1998 in the Play-Off for Third Place, whereas England drew the Opening Match of the 1966 tournament 0-0 with Uruguay at Wembley.
- If Luka Modric plays, this will be his 11th World Cup appearance, taking him level with Dario Simic as the joint-highest-placed Croat in the competition’s all-time appearance ranking.