What do we know about England’s World Cup semi-final opponents Croatia?
Croatia booked their semi-final place after a penalty shoot-out against hosts Russia.
England will bid to reach their first World Cup final in more than half a century when they meet Croatia in the last four on Wednesday.
Here, Press Association Sport profiles the side hoping to dash the Three Lions’ hopes.
World Cup record
After joining FIFA in 1992 and then UEFA in 1993 following the break up of Yugoslavia, Croatia made an instant impact at their first World Cup finals when they reached the 1998 semi-finals. They beat Germany 3-0 in the last eight but were then beaten by hosts and eventual winners France despite taking the lead. Since then, the Croats have exited at the group stage in 2002, 2006 and 2014 and failed to qualify in 2010.
Ex-Real Madrid forward Davor Suker, the current president of the country’s football federation, was the golden boot winner in 1998 with six goals for a team that also featured AC Milan midfielder Zvonimir Boban, as well as defenders Igor Stimac and Slaven Bilic – both of whom played in England. Brothers Niko Kovac and Robert Kovac played together at Bayern Munich, where the former has just been appointed manager, while Robert Prosinecki is one of the few to have played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Current danger men
Croatia’s strength clearly lies in the central-midfield department that includes Real’s Luka Modric and Barca’s Ivan Rakitic. Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic is a constant threat down the left wing and Ante Rebic is enjoying a fine tournament on the opposite flank, while only Suker has scored more goals for his country than Juventus front man Mario Mandzukic. Liverpool centre-back Dejan Lovren has continued the good form he showed towards the end of last season too.
Like Gareth Southgate, Croatian boss Zlatko Dalic did not did not begin the World Cup qualifying campaign in charge of the nation. In fact, when Ante Cacic was sacked in October, Dalic was appointed just two days before the final group game in Ukraine, which Croatia won to get a play-off spot. The 51-year-old had spent the previous three years managing Abu Dhabi-based team Al-Ain.
World Cup 2018 so far
Dalic’s side breezed through a group featuring Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland and were one of just three nations – along with Uruguay and Belgium – to win all three games. They needed a penalty shoot-out to see off Denmark in the last 16, though, after Modric had missed from the spot in extra time. Croatia booked their semi-final place against England thanks to another penalty shoot-out success, this time against hosts Russia after the sides were level at 2-2 following extra-time.
Previous meetings with England
There have been plenty of memorable encounters between the two countries, even though the last came almost a decade ago. The Three Lions won 5-1 that night at Wembley to seal their qualification for the 2010 World Cup, having also won the reverse fixture 4-1 when Theo Walcott scored a hat-trick. However, during the Euro 2008 qualifiers, Croatia twice beat England, including in a decisive game at Wembley when Steve McClaren’s reign ended after a 3-2 loss that meant England missed the tournament.
Croatia has become a popular holiday destination, particularly the resort of Dubrovnik, where popular television series Game of Thrones films its King’s Landing scenes. Croatia’s population is just over four million and, of the 32 countries at the 2018 World Cup, only Panama, Uruguay and Iceland are home to fewer people.
A nation famous for…
Croat Goran Ivanisevic owns one of the most unlikely sports stories of recent years after he won Wimbledon in 2001 despite being a wildcard entry. In the semi-final, with the help of some timely rain, he came from two sets to one down to beat Briton Tim Henman. Outside of sport, dalmatian dogs are thought to have originated from the Croatian region of Dalmatia.