FIFA World Cup 2018, semi-final preview: A look at what to expect in the Croatia vs England clash at Moscow

Two of the World Cup's most potent attacking teams produced just one goal when France and Belgium met in Tuesday's semi-final in St Petersburg.

For the first 30 minutes or so it was all Belgium, the tournament's most prolific scoring team, with French defenders desperately challenging them. However, ultimately it was Samuel Umtiti, who rose above everyone else to steer a header past Thibaut Courtois, and send France back to the World Cup final.

England's coach Gareth Southgate (L) and Croatia's coach Zlatko Dalic (R). AFP

England's coach Gareth Southgate (L) and Croatia's coach Zlatko Dalic (R). AFP

Who will join France for the final on Sunday? Croatia have never advanced to the championship match. The wait for England to reach a second final dates back to 1966, when they won the World Cup for the only time.

It has been two decades since Croatia last played in the World Cup semi-finals, and 28 years since England made the final-four. Here’s a look at what you can expect on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia:

Semi-final at Luzhniki Stadium: Croatia vs England, 11.30 pm IST 

England have four wins, two losses and a draw in matches against Croatia dating back to 1996. The teams have not met since qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, when England won 4-1 in Zagreb and 5-1 at Wembley Stadium.

England fans are confident they are closer than ever to regaining the World Cup.

The Lightning Seeds' Three Lions, England's official song when they hosted the 1996 European Championship, with its repeated chorus of "football's coming home" has hit No 5 this week on YouTube UK's top music videos charts with more than two million views on the day of England's last match.

England coach Gareth Southgate missed a penalty kick in the semi-finals of that tournament in 1996 and said he couldn't listen to the song for 20 years.

He's ready to face the music now and says "it's nice to hear people enjoying it again."

After falling short for generations, Southgate has put together an England team that is playing like a team. Harry Kane, who tops the World Cup scorers’ list in Russia with six goals, is level with former striker Gary Lineker for most goals scored by an England player at one World Cup.

Kane will be looking to add to his tally on Wednesday as he aims to clinch the Golden Boot award.

Tired legs

While England eased through the quarter-finals with a 2-0 win over Sweden, Croatia were forced into a penalty shootout against Russia after finishing extra-time at 2-2. That made it back-to-back shootouts for Croatia following their narrow win over Denmark in the Round of 16.

Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic had a hamstring injury during extra-time against Russia but remained in the match and played his role when the game went to penalties. Right-back Sime Vrsaljko limped off during extra time but Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has described the injury as a "niggle."

Dalic said he isn't concerned about his Croatia squad running out of steam.

"Of course there's power left for the English," Dalic said. "We don't want to stop. We want to play our best game."

It has been a rocky road off the field, too, for Croatia. Team official and former international Ognjen Vukojevic was expelled from the delegation for making a pro-Ukraine video with defender Domagoj Vida. The pair previously played for Ukrainian club Dynamo Kiev.

Vukojevic was fined $15,150 by FIFA but Vida was let off with an official warning after apologising for the video, which was posted after the team beat Russia. That leaves him free to play against England.

Croatia have a generation of players in their primes, or just past their primes, led by a strong midfield with Ivan Pericic (29), Ivan Rakatic (30) and Luka Modric (32), with Mario Mandzukic (32) heading the attack.

England and Croatia have stuck to virtually identical starting line-ups except for group phase finales, after qualification for the knockouts was secured.

In the other four games, Croatia's only variable to their 4-2-3-1 formation was whether to start captain Modric in a deep midfield role and Andrej Kramaric more advanced, or to move up Modric and start Marcelo Brozovic.

England have gone with a 3-5-2, and their only change was to start Ruben Loftus-Cheek in midfield after Dele Alli injured a thigh.

With an average age of 26, England are one of the youngest teams at the World Cup.

Projected Line-ups:

Croatia: 4-2-3-1 — Danijel Subasic; Sime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic; Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric; Ante Rebic, Andrej Kamaric, Ivan Perisic; Mario Mandzukic

England: 3-5-2 — Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire; Jordan Henderson, Kieran Trippier, Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young; Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane

With inputs from AP

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Updated Date: Jul 11, 2018 10:32 AM

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