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English pace meets Croatian grit

| | New Delhi
English pace meets Croatian grit

Southgate’s England determined to shine against Croatia’s midfield generals as semi-finalists look to demarcate respective golden generations

It's time for Gareth Southgate to come up with a big speech of his own. After England gave up a tying goal to Brazil in first-half stoppage time in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, Southgate felt coach Sven-Goran Eriksson lacked inspirational oratory in the locker room at halftime.

Now the 47-year-old former England international is leading the team, which plays Croatia on Wednesday in England's first World Cup semifinal in 28 years. The match is riveting the Land of Hope and Glory, which won its only title at home in 1966.

"Probably 18 months ago I talked to them about if you have success with England, it will be so much bigger than anything you can imagine, and I think that is probably starting to register with them now," Southgate said after Saturday's 2-0 quarterfinal victory over Sweden.

Southgate, who didn't play against Brazil, took a swipe at Eriksson after the 2-1 loss, comparing the cool-speaking Swede to a Tory opposition leader widely regarded as dull.

"We needed Churchill, but we got Iain Duncan-Smith," an unnamed defender, later identified as Southgate, was quoted as saying in a 2004 book by Joe Lovejoy.

No word whether Southgate will offer his "blood, toil, tears and sweat." With the coach keeping his strategies close to his now-famous vest, a young roster led by Harry Kane hopes to succeed where Gary Lineker, Michael Owen, Alan Shearer, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney failed.

England are ranked 12th in the world and Croatia 20th. The winner advances to Sunday's final against France or Belgium, which also will be at Luzkniki Stadium.

Croatia lost their only previous semifinal match to hosts France in 1998. They beat Denmark in the round of 16 and hosts Russia in the quarterfinals this year, becoming only the second team with consecutive shootout wins in the same World Cup since Argentina defeated Yugoslavia and Italy in 1990.

"It won't be easy for us," Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said through a translator. "We will focus in the next few days to recover as much as possible. We will look for the best solutions ahead the match, considering we have a few players with minor issues after the match against Russia. It won't be easy, but to get into the semifinals it's a new motive for us."

Croatia defy controversy

The calmness in England's camp on and off the field is in stark contrast to Croatia's experience.

In the latest in a series of controversies, former international Ognjen Vukojevic was kicked out of their delegation on Monday and fined by FIFA for posting a pro-Ukraine video clip following their penalty shootout victory over Russia on Saturday.

Defender Domagoj Vida, who scored against Russia, escaped with just a warning from FIFA, which bans political statements, for also appearing in the video and shouting "Glory to Ukraine!"

Earlier in the tournament, AC Milan striker Nikola Kalinic was sent home, reportedly over a disagreement with coach Zlatko Dalic about his fitness.

CHECKERED PAST

Croatia went ahead in the 1998 semifinals only 26 seconds into the second half when Aljosa Asanovic split the defence with a pass, and Davor Suker scored his fifth goal of the tournament. Lilian Thuram tied the score a minute later after stealing the ball from Zvonimir Boban near the Croat penalty area and exchanging passes with Youri Djorkaeff. Thuram scored the go-ahead goal with a curling shot in the 70th minute.

COLOURS

Croatia will wear their alternate navy-and-black jerseys and black shorts for the fifth straight match, and England will wear white shirts and white shorts. The Croats have not worn their white-and-red checkerboard shirts since their opener against Nigeria. England wore all red against Tunisia, Colombia and Sweden, and white shirts with blue shorts against Panama and Belgium. The English also wore white in the 1966 and 1990 semifinals.

 
 
 
 
 

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