World Cup Preview: Croatia v England

Who? Croatia - England
Where? Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
When? July 11, 20:00 (CET local time)

Croatia (Eden Roitfarb)

Following the quarter final victory over Russia in penalties, Croatian coach Zlatko Dalić has tweeted a short yet simple message: “Small Nation, Big Dreams”. As one of the smallest and youngest nations around in this World Cup, it is quite amazing to see the pride and hunger of the squad on one hand, and the buzz and support from the Croatian nation on the other hand. Even President Kolinda Grabar -Kitarović has joined the party and was seen dancing in front of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev after Domagoj Vida’s go-ahead goal in extra time.

Speaking of the Croatian defender, he has created a massive political controversy after he was being recorded saying “Glory to Ukraine” in a post-game video, along with assistant coach and former international Ognjen Vukojević. Both have played in the past for Ukrainian side Dynamo Kyiv and used this phrase that became popular in 2014 after conflict broke out with Russia. Just like Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri earlier in the tournament, Vida was fined for political provocation. Vukojević, however, was relieved from his duties following the incident. This is the second time a member of the Vatreni is sent home this summer, as striker Nikola Kalinić left the squad following his refusal to enter as a substitute vs Nigeria. Considering Croatia look fatigued after 2 grueling matches, Kalinić might be regretting his actions.

On Wednesday, Croatia face England in the Semi Finals. These two sides haven’t been in this stage for a long time, but both hold some good and bad memories from one another: In the Euro 2008 qualifications, Croatia beat England twice: 2-0 in Zagreb, and an iconic 3-2 win in Wembley – a result that left England out of the Euro’s. However, the Three Lions responded in the 2010 World Cup qualifications by thumping Croatia 4-1 and 5-1, thus denying the Balkan’s the chance to go to South Africa. For tonight’s matchup, two players who can be crucial for Croatia’s success are Luka Modrić and Vedran Ćorluka, who played together for English side Tottenham Hotspur – and know well some of their former Spurs counterparts that play today for England, such as Harry Kane, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose.

The Croatians arrive in Moscow for the first time this tournament and would want to stay in town until at least Sunday night – as they look to make their biggest dream yet come true.

England (Yossi Medina)

In the last weeks, you just can't ignore the pride of the English people. The chants of Football's Coming Home can be heard everywhere and the confidence in the ability of this team to make history is high. Nobody missed the chance to congratulate the team. After the win against Colombia in the round of 16, one message was not really welcomed by the fans.

UKIP is not one of the biggest parties in the British politics, but it's definitely well known in the country. One of their main objectives is to change the immigration policy in the UK. Instead of being based on political decisions such as membership in the European Union, UKIP wants to change the process in order to ensure that only skilled people could immigrate to the country.

Their celebrations with England's success made a huge controversy. The Migration Museum of London decided to reply them with a poster. The poster described how England's lineup would look without immigrant or their descendants. Out of the 11 lineup players of England against Colombia, only four left as "native" English. Surprisingly, you couldn't find the scorer of the decisive penalty from that match, Eric Dier, who grew up in Portugal, and the leading scorer, Harry Kane, that his father is Irish.

Even in such a conservative football nation as England, immigrants became an integral part of the team. At the last match, another interesting player scored. Dele Ali was born in Milton Keynes, but his father is Nigerian and he even lived in the country for two years.

This combination is one of the important things that leads England to their current position. It's more than the usual story of players who are playing for the same flag. It's a mixture of cultures and races in one team. Even though they all sing loud and proud for their queen before any match, each one of them have its own story in their journey to make history.

Since 1966, England never played in a major tournament final. They lost three time since then – against Yugoslavia in Euro 1968, against Italy in 1990 World Cup and the last time was in Euro 1996 against Germany. The last person who felt the misery of missing a final was the current manager, Gareth Southgate, who missed the last penalty against Germany. A manager who is part from history of English disappointments and players that arrived to the country as part from its historic successes, all know that they have one mission tonight: reaching the final.

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