What you need to know about England’s opponents Croatia


World Cup semi-final: Croatia v England
Venue: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow Date: Wednesday, 11 July (19:00 BST)
Coverage: Full match commentary on BBC Radio 5 live, text commentary, report and highlights on BBC Sport app and online

The last time England were in a World Cup semi-final, Croatia were yet to gain independence. That happened a year later.

Now the two sides are preparing to meet in the last four of the tournament on Wednesday, with Croatia hoping to reach the final for the first time and England hoping to end a 52-year wait to return.

BBC Sport takes a look at what we know about the Croatians and the threat they will pose.

The best midfield duo in world football?

Modric (left) and Rakitic play for the two giant clubs in La Liga

When Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic took charge in 2017, he faced the dilemma of how best to fit Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic – two of the world’s best midfielders – into the same team effectively.

He has favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation in the main, with Modric in the number 10 role.

Although playing further forward than he does for Real Madrid means Modric is involved less in the build-up than he is for his club, his influence is still huge – witnessed by his goal-scoring performance in the 3-0 win over Argentina in the group stages.

Modric touched the ball 62 times and made only 42 passes in that match but in the quarter-final win against Russia he was deployed further back, and had 139 touches and made 102 passes.

That did however mean Rakitic was a less influential figure, but if the two dovetail on Wednesday, England are likely to be starved of the ball.

Underdog status but first-class pedigree

In addition to Modric and Rakitic, there is high-level experience throughout a team with many of the players at Europe’s elite clubs, including Liverpool, AC Milan, Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Monaco.

They have won nine Champions Leagues between them, compared to England’s one, and 11 of the 23-man squad have 40 caps or more.

Most of this team have been together for a decade, with key players such as Modric, Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic all making their debuts within a couple of years of each other in 2006 and 2007.

“What I adore about them the most is their commitment to the national jersey,” said Tomislav Dasovic of Vecernji List newspaper.

The feeling in Croatia is they are now at their peak as a team – and have never been happier as a group.

“They are good mates off the pitch, but most importantly they believe in the coach,” added Dasovic. “He knows how to speak to them, he knows their DNA.”

Resilient and driven by pain of 2016

Highlights: Croatia 1-1 Denmark (3-2 on pens)

While England left Euro 2016 embarrassed by Iceland, Croatia departed wondering what might have been.

They lost a tight last-16 tie against Portugal by conceding the only goal of the game at the end of extra time in a match in which they had the majority of possession and had 17 shots to their opponents’ six.

Had they won, Poland and Wales would have stood between Croatia and a final against host nation France.

Their gutsy displays in this World Cup against Denmark and Russia – recovering from conceding late goals to win both games on penalties – speak of a side with a strong character who are determined to make the most of their opportunity this time.

Who will strike the latest blow?

McClaren was dubbed the “wally with the brolly” after England’s failure to reach Euro 2008

This will be the eighth meeting between the two sides, with England winning four, Croatia twice and one draw.

They have only met in a major tournament once, at Euro 2004, when England’s then teenage striker Wayne Rooney scored twice.

Croatia got their revenge during Euro 2008 qualifying as they won 3-2 at Wembley as England failed to reach the finals in a match remembered for boss Steve McClaren sheltering from the rain under an umbrella.

Two years later, Theo Walcott’s only international hat-trick came against Croatia as England qualified for the 2010 World Cup.

In this World Cup, Croatia topped their group with a 100% winning record ahead of Argentina, but have scraped through knockout games against Denmark and the hosts via penalties.

“We have worked through difficult matches, some of them better than others,” said Dalic.

“We respect England, we are a bit anxious because they are a great team. But England are not better than us! We respect them – they are a young and promising team. They are a very difficult opponent.

“We are happy with what we have achieved so far. We are among the four best teams in the world. We have nothing but respect for England, Belgium and France, but none of these teams is better than us!”


Lawro’s prediction for the game

BBC Sport football expert Mark Lawrenson in Russia:

I was at both of Croatia’s matches in the knockout stages, and they have got quality in all the most important positions in their team.

We know all about Modric and Rakitic in the heart of their midfield but they are also dangerous on the flanks and, at the back, Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida have been solid as well.

I don’t think there is any argument that Croatia are a step up in class to any other team that England have played in Russia – ignoring the meaningless game against Belgium.

But they have had extra time and penalties in their last two matches and some of their players looked absolutely exhausted near the end of their win over Russia.

Striker Mandzukic was one of them, and I think he is a very interesting player. He often plays on the left of a front three for Juventus, but plays up front in a central role for Croatia.

Against Denmark and Russia he disappeared for long spells, and you would find him wandering around on the right side of midfield. I was thinking ‘what is he doing there?’

It has worked for Croatia so far of course, and they showed what they can do to a team that opens up against them when they destroyed Argentina in the group stage, but I think this is a game England can win.

And finally… history repeats itself

Croatian newspaper Sportske Novosti described national team manager Zlatko Dalic as “the most popular man in the country” on Monday.

Dalic is a modest coach – quiet and keen to avoid words that might trip him up.

He was born in Bosnia but now has a Croatian passport.

In 1998 when Croatia also reached the last four of the World Cup they were coached by Miroslav Blazovic, who was also born in Bosnia. Croatia fans will hope this version can go one step further.



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