Southgate, England ready to face music of football history

Lionel Messi with his head in his hands as Croatia beat Argentina 3-0

Image Lionel Messi with his head in his hands as Croatia beat Argentina 3-0

England thumped Croatia 5-1 at Wembley the last time the two nations met, in a World Cup qualifier in September 2009, but Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic are the only survivors from that match on either side.

"We expect a very tough and demanding match, like every one in the World Cup".

Dejan Lovren talks up the talents of Harry Kane, but remains confident that he can stop the England striker from scoring against Croatia in Wednesday's semi-final. "I'm certain our team will play well and I have complete trust they'll go and play in the way they have throughout this tournament".

The manager, formerly the head of elite development and the under-21s coach, had played a key role in the Football Association adopting the England DNA blueprint after the awful showing at the 2014 World Cup, a strategy which championed best practice in scouting, coaching, development and preparation of young players, and which is reaping rewards.

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After a weekend of dramatic quarterfinal action that saw each game decided in a completely different manner, the 2018 World Cup is down to its final four. They had to go through extra time and penalties in both knockout matches against Denmark and Russian Federation but emerged successful in the end to reach the semifinals.

They beat Tunisia in their tournament opener thanks to a late Harry Kane goal, brushed aside a poor Panama, edged out Colombia on penalties and easily beat Sweden in the quarter-finals. The more big games we're involved and the more they come out successful in, the more belief it will build.

Ask anyone rooting for England in the World Cup, and they'll tell you, "It's coming home".

The center-back will be key to limiting England's threat from set pieces and will be a useful weapon in the opposition box, too.

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Croatia, on the other hand, did not have easy wins this World Cup.

"I've played against Modric a few times and he's a world-class player, probably one of the best I've played against". Hopefully he has a quiet night [on Wednesday] and we'll try our best to make sure that happens.

But the England boss is well aware of the threat that Croatia pose in the centre of the field.

The England captain, who has not scored from open play since England's rout of Panama in their second group match, does not have the lightning speed that would expose the lack of pace in the Croatian central defence.

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In the latest in a series of controversies, former worldwide Ognjen Vukojevic was kicked out of their delegation on Monday and fined by Federation Internationale de Football Association for posting a pro-Ukraine video clip following their penalty shootout victory over Russia on Saturday.

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