Belfast Telegraph

World Cup: England will use fans' energy to stop Croatia's world class midfield, says Southgate

 

By Adrian Rutherford

Gareth Southgate believes that stopping Croatia's star-studded midfield is key to England's World Cup final dreams.

The sides meet in Moscow tonight for a place in Sunday's decider against France.

England stand on the brink of history and their first final since 1966. However, in their way is a talented Croatian side which includes La Liga stars Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

Southgate, who said England's footballers had united the country at a time of turmoil, admits dealing with that threat is vital.

"We know that Croatia like to build possession, their midfield players like to drop deep and receive the ball," he said.

"They have exciting wingers who have the speed to get in behind you as well.

"They have an obvious threat from crosses which we will have to be able to deal with, and of course we know the quality of the midfield players and their ability to pick passes out and to score from distance if we allow them to shoot."

He added: "It's a huge test for us but we're in the semi-final of a World Cup and I wouldn't expect it to be any different."

Up to 10,000 England fans are expected at the Luzhniki Stadium for England's first World Cup semi-final since 1990, with 30million more are set to watch the drama unfold on TV back at home.

In an eve-of-game rallying call, Southgate said it was time to end decades of hurt: "Our supporters, our country, has had a long time of suffering in terms of football."

He added that England's footballers have given the country a reason to smile, at a time when Brexit uncertainty dominates the news agenda.

Southgate continued: "Our country has been through some difficult moments recently in terms of its unity and I think sport has the power to (address) that, and football in particular has the power to do that.

"So for us, we can feel the energy and we can feel the support from home, and it's a very special feeling. It's a privilege for us."

The former defender was a member of the last England side to reach a semi-final. That came at Euro '96 against Germany, when he missed the decisive kick in a penalty shootout.

He added: "We feel that this group of players is very similar to the players we had then.

"That team was a lot more experienced in terms of its age and its experience of big matches, had tactical understanding, had technically good players.

"We approached this tournament in the same way. We were a group of guys having a lot of fun, enjoying our football, learning and improving all the time, and that's what these lads have done."

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