Who will make it to the World Cup final? England or Croatia? Both teams have waited for decades. Today, they will fight to make history. Indeed, this first World Cup meeting between the pair will have a historic outcome. Croatia were defeated by hosts France back in 1998, meaning they have never reached a World Cup Final, while the Three Lions have only reached the Final once before, when they lifted their sole World Cup Trophy more than half-a-century ago – on home soil in 1966.
If both coaches are honest, they will admit that before Russia 2018 started, they would not have anticipated reaching this stage. But both sides have certainly earned their place with valiant performances. Croatia have endured two gruelling 120-minute epics, with nerve-shredding penalty shootout wins in the knockout rounds so far against Denmark and the hosts. England overcame their own penalty hex in the Round of 16 against Colombia, winning a first World Cup shootout at the fourth time of asking before defeating Sweden in the last eight.
History beckons for both these sides, who have big-name and big-game players amongst their ranks.
Croatia believe they can deal with Harry Kane after ‘stopping Messi’ in the group stages. Zlatko Dalic undoubtedly believes in his team, but how much more energy do his players have left? The Vatreni have played 240 minutes in six days and exhausted players pose the biggest problem for the Croatia coach. Also, his side have scored nine goals so far, with eight different goalscorers contributing. That is great for Dalic, but the coach is undoubtedly looking for a greater contribution from his forwards.
The Croatian camp are unlikely to be surprised by Gareth Southgate’s team selection, with no reported injury concerns and a consistent starting XI. England have shown they can adapt to the different styles of play they’ve faced in Russia 2018 so far and this time they’ll focus on containing and overcoming Croatia’s dangerous midfield. It might be a tighter, more closed contest than England would like, yet they wriggled free from Sweden’s attempts to restrict them and will stay faithful to their own system.
FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura said on Wednesday that Russia’s staging of the 2018 World Cup had set the bar high for Qatar, the tournament’s next hosts in 2022.
“I feel for Qatar, because [Russia] has set the bar very, very high,” Samoura, referring to the next World Cup in four years’ time, said at a meeting with Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the upper house of Russia’s parliament.
Samoura asked Matviyenko to convey to Russian President Vladimir Putin FIFA’s “profound appreciation for everything that he has done to make it possible for the world to enjoy the beautiful game.”
The tournament has left visitors with good memories, Samoura said, adding that she thought the doping level has been at record lows.
Russia is hosting the tournament for the first time, in 12 stadiums spread across 11 cities including Moscow, St Petersburg and Sochi.
The final will be played at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium on Sunday.