Luka Modric the danger man and other talking points as Croatia face England

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The World Cup‘s second semi-final takes place as England face Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Here, we highlight some things to look out for at Russia 2018 on Wednesday.

Can England cope with the occasion?

England seemed to do a very decent job of handling the pressure on them as they beat Sweden 2-0 in the quarter-finals, and fans will hope that was a good sign for an even more seismic fixture.

This is the Three Lions’ first World Cup semi-final in 28 years, offering the opportunity of a first appearance in the final since the glory of 1966.

While the way Gareth Southgate‘s men respond to the situation remains to be seen, the growing excitement among the supporters has been clear.

southgate 1

Will Kane be a record-breaker?

Although Harry Kane did not score in the Sweden match on Saturday, the quarter-finals concluded with him at the top of the Golden Boot standings, and the England captain will be looking to take another step towards that prize against Croatia.

Also, should he add to what is currently a six-goal haul, he will break a record – he is currently level with Gary Lineker (Mexico 1986) in terms of most goals netted at a single World Cup by an England player.

kane 2213

More heroics from Pickford?

A number of England players have really shone in Russia and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is another among them.

The 24-year-old followed up his superb saves in the last-16 tie against Colombia with a number of fine stops on Saturday and it may well be further heroics from him, as much as from Kane, that sees England through.

Pickford of England

Modric the main danger man?

Potentially the biggest individual threat England are set to encounter in the match is Croatia’s captain Luka Modric.

The Real Madrid man is widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world and gave a particularly eye-catching demonstration of what he can do with his fine strike in the 3-0 group-stage win over Argentina.

Modric’s team-mates Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic can also cause considerable problems.

Modric

Penalty prospects 

Memories may well be cast back to England’s defeat on penalties in the last four of the 1990 tournament if this game goes to a shootout, but fans might not feel quite the same sense of dread this time that they have in the past, with the team’s first-ever World Cup win on spot-kicks having been secured against Colombia.

It should be noted, though, that Croatia have won in each of the last two rounds via penalties, and that while England have Pickford, who made such a superb stop to keep out Carlos Bacca’s effort from 12 yards, their opponents have, in Danijel Subasic, a goalkeeper who has pulled off four shootout saves so far in Russia.

Subasic

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How have England fared in past major tournament semi-finals?

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England face Croatia on Wednesday looking for the win that will take them into their first World Cup final since 1966.

The Three Lions have only ever progressed to the semi-finals* of a major tournament three times previously.

Here, we take a look at how England got on in those matches.

England 2 Portugal 1 – 1966 World Cup semi-final (Wembley, London)

Portugal went into the clash boasting a 100 per cent record and having scored 14 times in four games, seven of which were notched by talismanic forward Eusebio.

However, it was hosts England who would emerge victorious at Wembley thanks to a brace from Bobby Charlton, who struck in the 30th and 80th minutes.

Portugal pulled a goal back from the penalty spot, Eusebio inevitably getting on the scoresheet again as he sent Gordon Banks the wrong way, but the Iberian nation could not find an equaliser. The rest, as they say, is history.

eng por

West Germany 1 England 1 (West Germany won 4-3 on pens) – 1990 World Cup semi-final (Stadio delle Alpi, Turin)

In what was England’s biggest game since winning the trophy against the same opponents 24 years previously, Bobby Robson’s men suffered the agony of a penalty shootout exit.

The match finished 1-1 after extra-time, with Gary Lineker firing home a late leveller after Andreas Brehme’s deflected 60th-minute shot had looped over a back-peddling Peter Shilton. In the shootout, all of the first six takers scored with their efforts.

However, Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle then missed either side of Olaf Thon’s successful effort as England, for the first time at a major tournament but not the last, tumbled out on spot-kicks.

Stuart Pearce

Germany 1 England 1 (Germany won 6-5 penalties) – 1996 European Championship semi-final (Wembley, London)

A familiar opponent and a familiar outcome for England as they fell short once again. Alan Shearer got the tournament hosts off to a flying start when he headed in the opener after just three minutes, but Stefan Kuntz slid home an equaliser soon after.

Neither side could find a winner during regulation or extra-time, meaning a shootout was required.

After all 10 players scored, it went to sudden death where Gareth Southgate saw his effort saved before Germany captain Andreas Moller smashed the decisive spot-kick into the roof of the net to send his side through to the final.

Stuart Pearce (left) consoles teammate Gareth Southgate

* England also played in the semi-finals of the 1968 European Championships but only four teams qualified for the tournament.

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England dreaming of World Cup final as Croatia set to provide their biggest test

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England are eager to reach their first World Cup final since 1966, but first they will have to find a way past a tough opponent in Croatia in the semi-final at the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday.

Gareth Southgate‘s young bunch of stars have managed to give their fans something to cheer in Russia as they get ready to play in the last-four of a major tournament for the first time since Euro ’96.

England secured a win over over Colombia on penalties in the last-16, and ever since then expectations have risen for the Three Lions.

But the question is, can Southgate’s team do what Sir Alf Ramsey’s side did in 1966 and lift the trophy?

“We were not certain what this team might be capable of,” Southgate told ITV.

England had won just one knockout game at a major tournament in 16 years before they headed to Russia, a 1-0 victory over Ecuador at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

“We believed in its potential, and I think the games that we’ve prepared for, we had belief we would win, but there is still pressure in all of those matches, so I’m really pleased with how the team have emerged and developed,” he added.

Meanwhile, Southgate has been the man who has kept the team and fans from getting too carried away.

And while that job has been taken care of by him, the Three Lions have yet to come face-to-face with the big guns in the tournament so far.

A 2-1 win over Tunisia in their tournament opener, followed by a 6-1 thrashing of Panama, a close win on penalties over Los Cafeteros and an easy victory over Sweden in the quarter-finals; England’s road has had just one loss, that too in a group-winner deciding clash against Belgium.

Croatia won’t be easy meat though and will demand more from England’s players, more so because Zlatko Dalic’s side have one of the best, if not the best midfield pair, in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

Real Madrid playmaker Modric has been exquisite throughout and has led his team from the front.

He also emerged as the man of the match in the win over Russia in Sochi at the weekend, scoring in the shootout to help Croatia reach the semi-finals for the first time since the 1998 World Cup in France.

“There is still a lot to play. England is also one of the favourites to win the World Cup and you need to respect that. But we have nothing to lose, we will enjoy this game, and hopefully we can write history,” said defender Dejan Lovren, of Premier League side Liverpool.

Croatia Training

Since 1998, when they played in the World Cup for the first time, Croatia have had their own share of disappointments at major tournaments and there seems to be less pressure on them this year.

“The biggest pressure came against Denmark in the round of 16 (which also went to extra-time and a penalty shootout). We feel much easier at this point,” said striker Mario Mandzukic.

Croatia also have their own set of injury problems ahead of the key encounter.

Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic stayed on against Russia despite hurting his hamstring, while right-back Sime Vrsaljko is a doubt.

But Southgate disagrees with the notion that England will be comparatively fresher.

“Any team in a World Cup semi-final is going to find the energy and going to find the motivation. So we won’t win the game just because Croatia had half an hour more football than us three days ago. We’ve got to win because we play better,” he said.

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