One of these Cinderella stories have to come to an end on Wednesday, but England and Croatia will round out semifinal play at the 2018 FIFA World Cup where one nation will punch a somewhat unlikely ticket to Sunday’s Final where it will meet the winner of Belgium, France.
Its a rare appearance in the last four for both countries, which makes the all-European clash even more of a must-watch.
England has made the semifinals just twice in 14 previous tournaments, winning the World Cup in 1966 and finishing fourth in 1990.
While the country has been made synonymous with the game of soccer, it has been rather irrelevant since its semifinal appearance 28 years ago. A pair of quarterfinal appearances aren’t necessarily something to write home about if you’re English, but that’s the best the Three Lions have mustered in the nearly three decades since losing in penalties to West Germany at Italy 1990.
Expectations were actually quite low for England entering the tournament. Gareth Southgate assembled a younger, inexperienced side when it comes to the international stage.
With an average age of approximately 26 years old, the Three Lions have leaned on the likes of Tottenham stars Harry Kane and Dele Alli, along with the 24-year-old Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who didn’t make his England senior team debut until November of last year.
Kane has carried the offensive attack as he leads the Golden Boot race in Russia with six goals. Five of those came in the group stage, including a hat-trick against Panama, before tallying one in a penalty shootout win over Colombia in the Round of 16.
The shootout win over Los Cafeteros was the first such triumph for England at the World Cup after an excruciating jinx that saw it crash out of the 1990, 1998 and 2006 tournaments. Pickford proved vital in the victory, parrying away Carlos Bacca’s attempt to help secure the Three Lions’ advancement into the quarterfinals where it would dispose of Sweden.
Now comes a stiff test in Croatia, who needed a penalty shootout to get past Denmark in the Round of 16 and the hosts Russia in the quarterfinals.
Croatia is making its second appearance in a World Cup semifinal, its first coming in 1998 which was just seven years after gaining independence from Yugoslavia.
With one of the best midfield duos in the world with Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic, Croatia improbably dominated Group D which included a decisive 3-0 victory over Lionel Messi and Argentina.
Also grouped with Nigeria and Iceland, Croatia’s chances of getting out of the group were fairly high. This was a team that should have defeated eventual champions Portugal in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016.
Modric is the only Croatian with multiple goals at this year’s tournament (2), but the Blazers boast seven other goal scorers indicating a deep, balanced side.
Here is how you can watch:
Croatia v. England viewing information
Date: Wednesday, Jul. 11
Time: 2 p.m. ET