A one-time World Cup champion looking to be back at the top of the world. An upstart European side looking to be the biggest underdog to lift the World Cup. The stage is set for England and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium tonight. The prize at stake? A place in the finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
First up, we should admit that both nations have overachieved in this edition of the FIFA World Cup. Croatia were always considered a talented side but a semi-final spot was always considered a bit too farfetched for them. In fact, when they made it to the same stage in 1998, it was called as one of the biggest surprises in World Cup history.
England, to their credit, have not pulled off a classic England move at this World Cup. Gareth Southgate’s men have kept their nerve in the knockout stages, including in a dreaded penalty shootout against Colombia. Maybe 2018 is the year when the World Cup comes home.
Speaking of penalty shootouts and holding on to your nerve, Croatia seems to be an expert. Zlatko Dulic’s side has progressed via penalty shootouts in the Round of 16 and then the Quarter-finals. An unenviable position to be in but an impressive feat to accomplish nonetheless. Denmark were the first victims of Danijel Subasic and Ivan Rakitic’s heroics from 10 meters. The tipping point was the penalty shootout win against hosts Russia. To defeat the home nation in front of a partisan crowd is an impressive achievement for the Croatians.
England, meanwhile, blew Sweden off the water in the Quarter-Final with a 2-0 win. The Swedes were too defensive and did not trouble England throughout the 90 minutes. Goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli saw England through to their first World Cup semi-finals appearance since 1990.
Will England make it to the finals for the first time since that historic day in 1966? Or will Croatia make it to their first ever World Cup final? Well, time to find out isn’t it?