England vs. Croatia: What to watch for in today's World Cup semifinal

Associated Press

It has been two decades since Croatia last played in the World Cup semifinals, and 28 years since England made the final four.

Croatia has never advanced to the championship match. The wait for England to reach a second final dates back to 1966, when it won the World Cup for the only time.

The victor in Wednesday's semifinal match at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow will return there for a final on Sunday against France, which beat Belgium 1-0 in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.

England has four wins, two losses and a draw in games against Croatia dating back to 1996. The teams have not met since qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, when England won 4-1 in Zagreb and 5-1 at Wembley Stadium.

Is it coming home?

England fans are confident they are closer than ever to regaining the World Cup.

The Lightning Seeds “Three Lions,” England's official song when it hosted the 1996 European Championship, with its repeated chorus of “football's coming home” has hit No. 5 this week on YouTube UK's top music videos charts with more than 2 million views on the day of England's last match.

England coach Gareth Southgate missed a penalty kick in the semifinals of that tournament in 1996 and said he couldn't listen to the song for 20 years.

He's ready to face the music now and says “it's nice to hear people enjoying it again.”

Tired legs

While England eased through the quarterfinals with a 2-0 win over Sweden, Croatia was forced into a penalty shootout against Russia after finishing extra time at 2-2. That made it back-to-back shootouts for Croatia following its narrow win over Denmark in the round of 16.

Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic had a hamstring injury during extra time against Russia but remained in the match and played his role when the game went to penalties. Right back Sime Vrsaljko limped off during extra time but Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has described the injury as a “niggle.”

Dalic said he isn't concerned about his Croatia squad running out of steam.

“Of course there's power left for the English,” Dalic said. “We don't want to stop. We want to play our best game.”

It has been a rocky road off the field, too, for Croatia. Team official and former international Ognjen Vukojevic was expelled from the delegation for making a pro-Ukraine video with defender Domagoj Vida. The pair previously played for Ukrainian club Dynamo Kiev.

Vukojevic was fined $15,150 by FIFA but Vida was let off with an official warning after apologizing for the video, which was posted after the team beat Russia. That leaves him free to play against England.

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