Gareth Southgate to gain England semi-final redemption against Croatia

 
Ben Cleminson
Sweden v England: Quarter Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Harry Maguire opened the scoring as England beat Sweden 2-0 in the World Cup quarter-final (Source: Getty)

It has been a long 28 years in English football since their last World Cup semi-final.

Gareth Southgate’s men will take to the field in Moscow tonight as the first England side to reach this stage since Bobby Robson’s outfit were defeated by West Germany at Italia ’90.

Despite a thrilling run to the semis, that night in Turin has come to sum up England’s propensity for glorious failure, thanks to Paul Gascoigne’s tears and Chris Waddle’s missed penalty.

Read more: England are heroes already so shouldn't fear Croatia semi-final

Southgate has known semi-final defeat of his own, too. It was his own missed spot-kick that saw the Three Lions bow out of Euro ’96 on home soil – desperately close, but ultimately falling just short of bringing football home again.

So many jokes, so many sneers, and all those oh-so-nears – but 22 years on from his penalty anguish, the England boss has the chance to deliver the ultimate redemption – a place in the World Cup final.

Standing in their way in Moscow are Croatia – a nation that didn’t even have independence in 1990.

Zlatko Dalic’s side have played the part of dark horses perfectly.

They steamrollered Argentina on their way to topping a tricky group and held their nerve in two penalty shootouts to defeat Denmark and Russia.

For a country with a population of just over four million people, they certainly have a production line of world class talent.

In captain Luka Modric, they have arguably the best central midfielder in the world, and alongside Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic, possibly the most complete pairing at this tournament.

While they have forged a reputation as underdogs, there is plenty of talent throughout the squad, with players from a variety of Europe’s elite clubs, including Juventus, Atletico Madrid, and Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren.

Read more: How Croatia punch above their weight on the world stage

Croatia have character in buckets – they bounced back from Modric missing a late spot-kick against Denmark and conceding a last-gasp equaliser against Russia to win both shootouts, with goalkeeper Danijel Subasic saving four penalties across the two games.

However, while Croatia were forced into a marathon evening against the hosts, England’s quarter-final couldn’t have gone much better.

A goal in each half, for Harry Maguire and Dele Alli, saw the Three Lions stroll into the semis with a 2-0 win over Sweden.

It can’t be denied that England’s route to this stage could have been harder, but they can only beat who are put in front of them – and Southgate’s men are growing in confidence game by game.

This young, vibrant side know their roles perfectly, and appear to be thriving on the rise in excitement back home. They’ve even won on penalties too.

Read more: Ghost busters: England laying demons to rest at World Cup

Harry Kane is the tournament’s top scorer, and backed by a steel in defence, this is a side that has a nation daring to dream.

Still, this will be a big step up for England who, aside from Belgium’s reserves, haven’t faced any of the world’s top 15 sides on their path to the semis.

There is an obvious exception, but semi-finals are rarely thrillers.

Taking out the outlier that was Germany’s 7-1 win over Brazil four years ago, there were only nine normal-time goals in the past seven semis, meaning we could be set for a close, cagey contest, where neither want to give much away.

I think we may not be able to split the sides in 90 minutes, and suggest backing the draw at 3.15 with BETDAQ.

If we do go all the way, that could be where England’s fresher legs come into play.

It’ll certainly lead to a nervy night up and down the country, but I’ll be backing England to win in extra-time at 10.0 with BETDAQ.

Pointers

Draw - 3.15 (BETDAQ)

England to win in extra-time - 10.0 (BETDAQ)

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