England stand on the brink of a first World Cup final since 1966 as they prepare to face Croatia tonight – and the Croatians face the prospect of a first ever appearance in the biggest game in world football.
Both sides have endured frustrating performances in recent World Cups, despite having talented squads available to them, with England only reaching one World Cup semi final since 1966 – in 1990, and Croatia only reaching this stage once before – in 1998.
This is uncharted territory for both nations, their fans and most definitely their players.
England have powered their way into the semi finals, with just one defeat so far, at the hands of a second string Belgian side in the group stages.
They broke their penalty shoot out hoodoo against Colombia in the last 16, before a routine 2-0 victory over Sweden in the quarter finals.
Croatia have hard it far harder en route, beating Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland in their group – as one of only three sides to enter the last 16 with a 100% win record at that stage.
However in the knockout rounds they have found performances and inspiration harder to come by.
Against Denmark in the last 16, they dominated the 90 minutes of normal time, but failed to find a winner. In extra time, the Danes found a second wind and Croatia were forced to defend – almost playing for penalties – with skipper Luka Modric missing from the spot in extra time.
They got through that test, with Modric redeeming himself in the shoot out, before Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic scored the winning penalty.
Against Russia in the quarter finals they faced a different threat, with the host nation replicating their organised and physical approach that saw them past Spain.
However Russia hauled themselves back into it, and it was to be another penalty showdown for Croatia, this time with the whole of Russia against their players.
Again Croatia showed their mettle, with Modric and Rakitic the heroes – alongside goal keeper Daniel Subasic.
England have a clearer momentum behind them ahead of the semi final, and whilst Croatia have had a tougher route, they have passed each test so far.
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