Belfast Telegraph

Steven Davis: England's World Cup celebrations remind me of Northern Ireland supporters during Euro 2016

By Steven Davis

England v Croatia for a place in the 2018 World Cup final against France. It's the ultimate incentive for both sets of players tonight.

It's a really intriguing match up between two teams who have performed very well to date and are deservedly in the last four of what has been a memorable tournament.

There are different factors that will come into play for this semi-final, and perhaps Croatia's two previous games going to extra-time and penalties might swing the tie in England's favour if the game is once again level after the 90 minutes.

Mind you, I expect the adrenaline and prize at stake will see Croatia put in a performance no matter how tired they feel.

There are fascinating battles to look forward to all over the pitch. Will England's wing backs get pushed back by the direct wingers Croatia have?

How will Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren cope with Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling?

Can Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli effect Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic enough with their runs in behind, their pressing and possession so they don't take control of the game as they normally do?

I don't see England changing their system or the philosophy they have shown up until this point, whereas Croatia have been a little more flexible in their approach depending on the opposition.

England have shown they have a real identity now in terms of how Gareth Southgate wants them to play, and you can just see the confidence and momentum building.

It's great for English football to see their fans and country unite behind the team.

Personally, it brings back magical memories of our time with Northern Ireland at the Euros in 2016 when we saw on social media all the jubilant scenes back in our wee country.

I have no doubt the England players will get a lot of joy and belief from the celebrations back home just like we did when we were in France.

England fans are on a real high entering this semi-final. Some of that is down to the fact that they finally won a penalty shoot-out in the World Cup.

I've been in a couple of penalty shoot-outs from my time at Rangers and they are quite something to be involved in.

There's obviously huge pressure when it goes to penalties but I would always put myself forward to take one.

That was the case in 2008 when we beat Dundee United in the League Cup final and I picked up my first piece of silverware with Rangers.

A couple of months later, we progressed to the Uefa Cup final at the expense of Fiorentina. In that game I had been subbed off before it went to penalties but I still remember that feeling of pure elation when Nacho Novo stepped up to score the decider.

Anyone taking a penalty in a shoot-out will have nerves, fatigue and adrenaline to contend with, so if things go all the way tonight it'll be those who stay the calmest, pick their spot and execute the technique they've practiced thousands of times on the training pitch who will come through it.

It can be such a cruel way to lose a game for a team who has given everything, but a lot of the time it's those small margins that decide games. Both teams will feel confident though if it does go the distance having already been successful.

It's a difficult one to call, but what a game for the England and Croatia sides to compete in. It's an opportunity for both sets of players to write themselves into the football history books.

I can't wait to see how it plays out, and expect a great game both tactically and technically.

Belfast Telegraph

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