England fans are daring to dream of the World Cup trophy heading home for the first time since 1966, but first they must get past a strong Croatian team in Wednesday's semi-final.
<h2 style="text-align:center">World Cup Semi-finals: England v Croatia</h2><p>“Football’s coming home!” is a refrain you hear approximately every 0.001 seconds across England at the moment. The iconic line from the enduringly popular 1996 song, Three Lions, has become the darling of a million memes and social media posts after Gareth Southgate’s men powered through to the semi-finals of the World Cup. The song is playing in almost every bar, café and restaurant across the nation, and people are humming it as they go about their daily lives. England invented football, but countries like Brazil, Italy and Germany perfected it, and the World Cup has not headed to England since 1966. Now fans are daring to dream that football could finally come home once again.</p><p>This wasn’t supposed to happen. England’s golden generation has retired, reduced to a mere cautionary tale about mismanagement and letting club rivalries get in the way of collective glory. Superstars like Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes failed spectacularly in their efforts to bring football home. Fans approached this World Cup with decidedly less optimism, proclaiming that a quarter-final elimination would be a good result for this ragtag bunch of youngsters.</p><p>They lack star quality, apart from captain Harry Kane, but they have one crucial strength that escaped the golden generation: togetherness. There are no egos in this squad, no pouting prima donnas. Southgate decided against taking Rooney, Jack Wilshere and Joe Hart to the World Cup, and instead he put his faith in young, hungry players that can run themselves ragged in the Russian heat. He has fostered a culture of diligence, maturity and humbleness among his group of players and it is paying dividends.</p><p>They looked supremely comfortable as they swept aside Sweden in the quarter-finals, courtesy of headers from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli. A focus on set pieces has paid off to devastating effect. The Three Lions have scored eight of their 10 goals at this World Cup from set pieces, and that has carried them into the last four. Practicing penalties also helped. Kane has rocketed in three during the tournament, and England also beat Colombia in a shootout. They are well prepared, hungry and grounded, and so far it has proved to be a winning combination.</p><p>But now they face their sternest test: a semi-final clash with a technically gifted Croatian side on Wednesday. A midfield pairing of Luka Modric of Real Madrid and Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona has carried the Croats through this tournament, but they also possess plenty of quality going forwards. Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic play for top Serie A sides, and Mateo Kovacic and Ante Rebic have looked lively, while Danijel Subisic has been a colossus in goal, particularly in shootouts.</p><p>But this Croatian defence is unconvincing. They went to sleep twice to concede against Russia in the quarter-finals, and they have relied on penalty shootouts in both knockout games thus far. Vedran Corluka could not cut it in the Premiership, and Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren always looks like a calamity waiting to happen. If – and this is a big if – Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard and Alli can find some joy against Modric and Rakitic and supply Kane and Raheem Sterling with decent service, England’s striking duo could have a field day against Corluka and Lovren.</p><p>There is one other factor to consider. England breezed through their game against Sweden, rarely looking troubled. Then Croatia played later on Saturday, and they went to extra time once again in the sweltering Sochi heat. Their players were keeling over with cramp during the game, just like in the previous round against Denmark, and they really should be exhausted by the time they face England on Wednesday night. <a href="https://www.bookmakersreview.com/best-bookmakers/" title="Top Rated Bookmakers">England to win at 11/8 therefore looks like great value</a>. It’s coming home.</p>